Magherafelt title bid hit

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MAGHERAFELT travelled to face a very strong Ballynafeigh side this week, still without a previously in-form Nick Hastings.

The evening did not go well for the “travelling team” as their encouraging start to their “comeback” Ulster Squash Premier League campaign came to an abrupt end.

Laurence Hastings opened up at No. 4 for Magherafelt against Tanya Owens in a crucial rubber for the team, against the ex-Magherafelt player. Although Tanya was both moving and hitting the ball well Laurence started positively and developed a lead in the opening game. Unfortunately with the score balanced at 9/9 in the first game Tanya hit two “cruel winners” from the back of the court to take the opener. Laurence came back strongly to level the match 1/1 taking the second, but if Laurence was hoping that Tanya was going to tire, he was to be disappointed.

Tanya showed great determination and commitment chasing down everything that Laurence hit at her and in the end it was Laurence’s lack of match fitness that was exposed. Both players rallied hard all the way to the end but it was Tanya who came out on top 3/1; 11/9, 4/11, 11/7, 11/8.

This is a result that will certainly hurt Laurence and he will be looking forward to the return in the second half of the season. In the meantime, “come back Tanya, all is forgiven!” In the No. 2 rubber Gareth Brown made a good start against Adrian Leeson taking a tight opening game 11/9. Adrian returned the compliment in the second and went on to dominate the third to go 2/1 up. Gareth came back strongly in the fourth game and looked a “cert” to take the match into a decider when leading 10/4. To his horror and frustration he somehow managed to squander six consecutive game balls and let Adrian back to level terms, just when it looked like he was in the ascendancy, going from strength to strength.

The game could have gone either way but unfortunately Gareth had missed his chance and Adrian hung on long enough to close the match out 3/1; 9/11, 11/9, 11/4, 14/12. Again the Magherafelt player will be disappointed with this result particularly after playing himself into such a strong position.

With team morale sinking fast Ray Hogg was matched with the very talented Ben Craig at No. 3. Ray started well against his very strong opponent and managed to take the score to 9/9, however he just was not able to convert this into a win.

His effort in the opening game cost him dearly and although Ray continued to contest and hit the ball well he just did not have the engine to keep pace with his opponent. Ray was eventually squeezed out in straight games 3/0; 11/9, 11/3, 11/4.

In the evenings top match Jeremy Hastings faced the new Irish No. 1 player and Ulster Open champion Graham Stewart (it had been 15 years since Graham had last was ranked No. 1 in Ireland!)

Jeremy was not fancied to win this match however, the Magherafelt man made Graham work hard and even got better as the match went on and his confidence grew. Graham was good enough to win in straight games 3/0; 11/4, 11/5, 11/9 – but like the rest of the team he will be looking forward to the rematch, now feeling that he can do better.

The evening turned out to be a rout for Ballynafeigh winning 4/0 (13:2) and realistically this has inflicted terminal damage to Magherafelt’s hopes of a comeback Premier title. With the strong likelihood that Nick Hastings will miss a further match Magherafelt are not confident about their next challenge away to Antrim, and will have to dig deep to come out with any result.