Kilkeel 4 Dungannon Ladies 3
With a curtailed squad of eleven players, Dungannon Ladies faced Kilkeel in the first round of the McConnell Shield. Over the past few season this has consistently been one of the toughest matches in senior hockey with the home side generally taking the spoils.
Injuries and illness had left a depleted squad at the disposal of coach Norman Purdy, but he knew that despite the fine recent league form, nothing but 100% would give the girls a chance of progressing to the next round.
Unfortunately with the unavailability of substitutes a much changed Dungannon side from their last league match saw the game commence with a number of players already firing on less than full power.
To be fair to Kilkeel, they seized the opportunity and within seven minutes had raced into a two goal lead. With the fresh sea air in abundance at least this had the effect of stirring the Dungannon ladies into life. The flowing hockey which has been consistently to the fore all year began to reappear.
Gradually as the half wore on Lynda McQueen began to drive the Kilkeel midfield back and the pace of Dana Bettany became a bigger threat. With good supporting play from her attack partners Karen Elliott and Andriea McKay this pressure started to create opportunities. As the half entered the last fifteen minutes a series of short penalty corners saw Dungannon rewarded for their efforts.
In a move straight from the training field Lynda McQueen played a delightful weighted pass into the path of the ever reliable Emma McMullan who with consummate ease placed the ball expertly through the packed defence for Karen Elliott to push the ball over the line and Dungannon back into the game. This spurred Dungannon on and with surging runs from defence from Sarah Winslow and attacking forays through the middle from Hannah Smyth and Georgina Mulligan the sleepy start from soon forgotten.
A deserved equaliser seemed to be on the cards as the pressure mounted on the Kilkeel goal. However with only minutes remaining and totally against the run of play a quick counter attack from Kileel resulted in a penalty corner to the home side. Despite a superb save from Vicki Kerr the fierce drive from the Kikeel forward cannoned back of a Dungannon defender and fell invitingly to an unmarked forward who pass the ball into an empty net as the half time whistle blew.
This was definately a hammer blow to the Dungannon side as 3-1 did not fully reflect the balance of play in the first half.
With no room for error, Coach Norman reshuffled his pack and in a gamble withdrew Lynda McQueen to the role of sweeper and by moving Lyndsey Purdy to left wing and playing Karen Elliott through the central midfield role hoped that the tide would turn. However in an uncharacteristic start to the second half, a fine solo run from the half way line Kilkeel effectively closed out the game when a shot from the edge of the area trickled into the net past an unsighted Vicki Kerr.
At 4-1 down many sides would have folded but to be fair to Dungannon despite the fact a number of players where now running on empty they never gave up , and in a purple patch half way through the second half a blistering Dungannon attack saw Lynsey Purdy pull one goal back as Dana’s blistering run through the middle ripped the Kilkeel defence apart and after drawing the Kilkeel stopper rolled the ball through to Lynsey to give the travelling supporters hope.
For the next five minutes Dungannon threw everything they could at Kilkeel with the defence of Sarah Winslow, Tanya Gates and Emma McMullen now pushing forward at every opportunity. In a repeat of their second goal Andria this time tore the defence apart but with the uneven surface of the Kilkeel pitch coming to their rescue the final shot from Dana bounced narrowly wide.
With their energy levels severely depleted Dungannon forced the game as much as possible for the remaining minutes but as the final whistle sounded the relief for the Kilkeel side was evident for all to see as they had held on for a first round victory.
This was not Dungannon at their fluent best but with injury and illness contributing to a below par display it is one from which positives for the rest of the season can be taken.
Dungannon: Victoria Kerr, Lynsey Purdy, Sarah Winslow, Tanya Gates, Emma McMullan, Hannah Smyth, Lynda McQueen, Georgina Mulligan, Karen Elliott, Dana Bettany and Andriea McKay
Many thanks to Umpire Billy Adrain and the travelling supporters and Dungannon now look forward to a week’s rest before returning to competitive league action.