DESPITE losing out to Dublin kingpins Pembroke Wanderers, the Reds went through to the semi-finals of the IHL by a losing bonus point and now face their greatest rivals - Banbridge - in the finals weekend at Three Rock Rovers HC.
Pembroke required a big win to ensure qualification and they came out like a team possessed at the newly named Steelweld Park in Cookstown. The Reds had a let off in the first minute of the game when a Wanderers attack resulted in the ball going just wide.
The Reds settled after this early scare and started to make the visitors work hard for any possession. With the game just seven minutes old, David Best found Simon Todd with a great ball. Todd made headway into the circle and played a wall pass with Allen to score past the advancing keeper.
This lead was short lived as Pembroke hit back immediately. An attack down Cookstown’s left side resulted in a crash ball flashing past the goal where a reverse effort was tapped in at the back post by Irish international Alan Sothern to bring the teams level.
At this stage this was a good game to watch with both teams looking to play attacking hockey. Jonny Ames then made a great run from inside his own half but the support was not there and the break came to nothing.
Pembroke won their first penalty corner early in the second quarter and thankfully for Cookstown, Thompson was alert to take the effort off the line.
Rollins was having a good game in the heart of the Reds’ defence where he was keeping danger man Sothern shackled during open play.
Most of the big decisions were going Pembroke’s way and they were awarded another penalty corner for a tackle outside the circle which thankfully came to nothing.
Cookstown had a couple of efforts to go ahead; Ames’s reverse was saved and Millar’s reverse went over the bar.
Going into the last couple of minutes of the quarter, Cookstown were reduced to nine men as the umpires flashed the cards. To make matters worse, just on the half time hooter Pembroke scored when Sothern beat Hughes with a trademark drag at a penalty corner.
The Reds were put under immediate pressure by the visitors following the half time break, and Hughes made a great point blank save from Shimmins. Hughes then followed this up with another great save when lying prone on the ground as the visitors cranked up the pressure.
Cookstown won their first penalty corner soon afterwards and although the set piece didn’t go to plan, Ames was able to turn a rising ball (which was going wide) into the net for the equaliser.
Again Cookstown had a player sin binned as both umpires went overboard - any contact seemed to be punished. Just towards the end of this quarter Rollins cleared off his line at another penalty corner.
The Reds exerted good early pressure in the final quarter and had a great claim for a penalty stroke waved away when a flick from Allen hit a defender’s shoulder on the goal line - unbelieveably deemed this to be dangerous play. Supporters minds went back to Antwerp when Godfrey Irwin got hit on the head during the European Hockey League and had to be rushed to hospital, but the umpire’s decision was to correctly award a penalty stroke.
Nevertheless, Cookstown kept pushing and a great aerial ball from Ames found Millar and his effort hit the side-netting.
Pembroke went ahead when Sothern again beat Hughes from another set piece penalty corner with ten minutes of the game remaining.
The Reds almost levelled when a Pembroke defender almost deflected past his own keeper. With two minutes remaining the ball broke to Greg Allen at the edge of the circle but his reverse effort went wide and ended Cookstown’s hopes of drawing the game.
Cookstown finished second in Group A and play Banbridge, who finished top of Group B, in the semi final which takes place this Saturday at Three Rock Rovers ground with a 5pm start. The second semi-final takes place at the same venue between Monkstown and Lisnagarvey and starts at 3pm.
Both the Ladies and Mens finals are the next day at Three Rock Rovers and, with the support that only Cookstown can call upon, it will be the Reds going for All-Ireland glory.
The AGM will be held on Friday 17th May at 7.30pm in clubhouse. There will be no committee meeting until the new committee is elected at the AGM. Anyone wishing to have something addressed at AGM should let Linda Black know in writing before then.
The club dinner is being held in Glenavon Hotel on Friday 10th May. Jonny Ames will be selling tickets in clubhouse next Wednesday evening. Please support him by going along.