Competitive league action returned for the Dungannon Ladies with an intriguing Senior One derby against near neighbours Cookstown.
On a positive note Dungannon supporters were delighted to see first team regulars Abigail Edwards, Karen Elliott and her sister Alison in good health and able to swell the crowd on the sidelines.
With a reduced squad already missing regulars Lisa Millar and Lesley Dickson, the club was delighted to welcome back Laura Kennedy for her first game of the season.
On their first attack Stacey Lee confidentially despatched the ball into the net, however seconds before the whistle had went to award Dungannon a penalty corner.
Although this was cleared Dungannon regained possession and with Jayne Wilson prominent on the left wing Dungannon began to build pressure. However as Cookstown settled into the match their midfield began to link well with their forwards, the game was finely balanced after five minutes.
With a quick free taken by Dungannon the ball was slipped through to Stacey Lee who fired home to give Dungannon a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately instead of this boosting the ladies confidence, Cookstown took over the game with their midfield pushing on to join with their front line to stretch the Dungannon defence.
This gave Cookstown their first clear shot on goal but this was missed. However within seconds loose play saw Dungannon loose possession and with a sharp transfer of the ball Cookstown equalised with a well-placed shot giving keeper Vicki Kerr no chance.
This encouraged Cookstown and suddenly the early promise Dungannon showed disappeared.
With their attacking play Cookstown threatened regularily requiring strong defending, with Laura Kennedy impressing with her tackling and distribution as the “thin blue line stood firm”.
With Cookstown now playing the more controlled hockey Dungannon replied on the fast breaking counter attacks led by Andria McKay and Samantha Kelly in support of Stacey Lee.
However, the lack of match activity in recent weeks was evident as the fluent running skills evident back in January could not be found and time and time again, moves broke down at the final pass.
However, as halftime approached Dungannon broke once more with speed and drew a penalty corner.
As the whistle sounded to denote the end of the half, Dungannon took their corner and with a clean strike Captain Lynda Eliott fired home to give the Dungannon Ladies a narrow 2-1 advantage.
This was probably unfair to the Cookstown girls who had pressurised Dungannon more than any other team so far this season, and coach Norman Purdy was relieved to have the opportunity to give a team talk with the goal to boost morale.
As with the first half Dungannon threatened , and having taken the pass back Stacey ran through the Cookstown side, only to lose control with a reverse stick shot.
Within seconds Samantha Kelly showed her pace with a 30 metre sprint but, with the goal at her mercy, fired wide from the penalty spot. These “let offs” gave hope to Cookstown who had entered the game on the back of a great away win in Ballymena, and as in the first half their midfield took over.
However, the fitness and conditioning of the Dungannon Ladies started to tell and unlike in the first half when Dungannon were forced back they were now winning the 50:50 tackles.
Georgina Mulligan broke up another attack and put Jayne Wilson away, who with a great through ball set Stacey away. With players up in support the chance lapsed as the shot bobbled wide.
However, for the following five minutes, better communication across the front line saw Dungannon win a series of short corners in quick succession.
Alas, dogged defending and a lack of control at critical moments saw Cookstwon hang on.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Hannah Smyth had a great run down the left side-line which resulted in another short corner, but as previously, Cookstown defended well.
As the game entered the final quarter the interchange of full backs Laura Kennedy & Jill Elliott for the evergreen duo of Sarah Winslow and Emma Kirkpatrick saw Dungannon push forward to put daylight between the sides.
Cookstown responded to this by running unchallenged from the edge of their own ‘D’, however when the attack broke down a swift counter attack by Dungannon saw Dungannon take a 3-1 lead with Andria McKay finishing off at the back post following good work by Jayne Wilson and Lynda Elliott.
This was the turning point in the game as Dungannon realised that while they were not at their fluent best , their fitness was a major benefit to them as the game entered the final 10 minutes. This encouraged the midfield to push on and with increased support to the forward line, more corners followed.
But, with good defending and a lack of sharpness in front of goal, Cookstown held out until three minutes to go when following another short corner, Samantha Kelly dribbled past four defenders before placing the ball past the advancing keeper to give a comfortable 4-1 score-line to the Dungannon Ladies. Although further chances followed as the game came to a close, these were missed and the game ended 4-1.
Although it will look a comfortable result, there were long periods when Cookstown gave a very uncomfortable afternoon to the Dungannon team and the large numbers of supporters.
The defence of Lyndsey Purdy, Emma Kilpatrick, Sarah Winslow and Georgina Mulligan kept Dungannon in it for long periods while under sustained pressure and the interchanges of Laura Kennedy and Jill Elliott allowed fresh impetus when needed.
After a difficult week for the club following the serious road accident last Friday involving four players. it was great to get back on the astro and with winning three points, the ladies moved back into 3rd place by leapfrogging Banbridge.
Saturday sees all sides return to league activities, a special mention reserved for Ruth Montgomery who, along with her goal-keeping duties, maintains the profile of the club through facebook and press releases, and we wish her a full recovery over the coming months. We also would like to recognise the support received over the past week from far and near including Ulster Hockey, North Down and Lurgan Ladies Hockey Club, and Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council.