MAGHERAFELT struggled to pull together a competitive team for their trip to Ballyearl in the Ulster Cup Plate semi-final. However despite this they were just 3 points away from escaping with an unlikely victory.
Laurence Hastings was brought in at No. 4 for Magherafelt (despite being hampered with an injured elbow) against Norman Kernohan. Laurence struggled to get going, unable to find any power or control in his shots, and was 2/0 down before he really troubled Norman. Laurence fought back in the third game relying on his ability to cover the court and play “sneaky” shots! Laurence managed to take it in a tie break, gaining a valuable point. In the fourth game Norman was ready and waiting for what Laurence could throw at him, and took control, with Laurence now running out of steam. Norman won 3/1; 11/3, 11/4, 10/12, 11/5.
In the No. 3 rubber Nick Hastings was matched with Stephen McAteer. Nick was also returning from injury, and perhaps taking the court sooner than he would really have liked. From very early on it was clear that Nick’s movement was seriously restricted and that he had hurt himself. Like the match before it was the third game before Nick was able to exert any significant pressure on his opponent, but unfortunately this time the Magherafelt player was just edged out in the tie break; as Stephen went on to secure victory 3/0; 11/2, 11/4, 13/11.
For Magherafelt to now sneak through to the final they would have to win both the remaining rubbers 3/0; and at one point this looked like a very distinct possibility. In the No. 2 rubber Gareth Brown made an excellent start against Billy White going 2/0 up and leading 8/7 in the third game. He was now just three points away from delivering his “side of the bargain”. However Billy refused to give up and Gareth just didn’t get the bounce of the ball when he needed it and Billy took the game to keep the rubber alive.
Billy built on his success and attacked Gareth at every opportunity as Gareth’s confidence started to dissipate noticeably. He took a tight tie break in the fourth, saving several “match balls” to take the match to a decider, and despite Gareth’s huge efforts chasing everything down Billy managed to maintain his momentum in the fifth game and managed to edge through to secure what looked, at one stage, to be an unlikely victory 3/2; 4/11, 8/11, 11/8, 14/12, 11/8.
With victory now secured by Ballyearl, Jeremy Hastings went on in the remaining, now dead rubber, at No. 1 against Neal Pollock. Jeremy took a tight opening game in a tie break which seemed to break Neal’s spirit. Jeremy went on to take the second and third games comfortably to seal a 3/0 victory; 12/10, 11/4, 11/4. The overall result was a 3/1 (10/6) win for Ballyearl. Magherafelt’s next match is away at Civil Service when they resume the second half of their Ulster Squash Premier Division League Programme. With the team still under pressure with several players struggling hopes will not be high.