Cookstown came within five minutes of qualification to the last four of the Irish Hockey League on Saturday before a moment of madness robbed them of a semi-final berth with a round of group games to go.
A point against Irish Senior Cup champions Monkstown would have seen both teams through, but now the Reds will have to confirm their progress with points against old rivals Pembroke Wanderers at Coolnafranky on Saturday.
Monkstown were by far the better team throughout the first quarter of last week’s match as Cookstown struggled to get to grips with the high tempo of the game.
The Dublin side won their first penalty corner early but Ian Hughes saved Kiwi Andy Ewington’s effort. The game was still very young but it was all one way traffic as Cookstown defended deeper and deeper.
The Reds. completely against the run of play. had a great chance to go ahead when Gareth Cuddy seized upon a defensive error but he had no support with him and the chance was lost.
Hughes then made a great double save from another Monkstown penalty corner. With a couple of minutes to go until the end of the quarter Hughes was beaten with a sloppy reverse from Carson to leave the Reds one down at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter started better for Cookstown with Jon Ames winning his side’s first penalty corner. A well worked variation saw Greg Allen’s deflection come off the keeper to safety with the ball hitting the keeper rather than keeper making a save.
That was the only chance Cookstown had during this quarter and it was only thanks to some abysmal finishing, coupled with some great saves from Hughes, that Cookstown didn’t find themselves further behind.
Hughes made a great double save from another penalty corner and then, after a defensive error, made a great tackling stick save when faced with a one-on-one. Half time came with Cookstown only one goal down.
The Reds made a few changes during half time and Paul Thompson made a great strat with a trademark run down the right, entering the Monkstown circle. Unfortunately, his cross was cleared and Thompson picked up an injury which forced him from the pitch.
Cookstown were now putting Monkstown under pressure and their keeper, David Fitzgerald, made a good save from a Ryan Millar effort. This was a great response from Cookstown after being under the cosh for so long and was probably the first time during this IHL series that Monkstown had been subjected to such a sustained spell of pressure.
However, the Reds had a couple of let offs as Monkstown did everything but find the net. Then towards the end of the quarter a lifeline: a sideline aerial from Allen found David Best who made ground down the right before forcing his way into the cirle. He found Stephen Sloan in a packed circle and the ball fell invitingly for young Andy Smyth to sweep into the net for his first IHL goal.
Hughes yet again produced a remarkable save from a deflected effort to keep the scores level at the end of the quarter.
Both sides knew that a draw would mean that both teams would qualify for the semis with one game each still to play but neither wanted to give up the chance of a famous victory.
Monkstown started strongly and Hughes made a helluva save at his near post.
Cookstown had a glorious chance to go ahead when Millar raced clear with with only Fitzgerald to beat but unfortunately the talented netminder won the encounter. Then Watkins had a similar chance against Hughes with the Cookstown keeper coming out on top.
The game was now being stretched as play swung from end to end and Cookstown won their third penalty corner which unfortunately came to nothing.
With the clock entering the final five minutes all the hard work and committment was blown away in a moment of madness from Cookstown. A free was awarded to Monkstown on the Red’s dotted line and Cookstown gave the umpire the easy decision of awarding a penalty corner by preventing the free being taken quickly. The Dublin side then dished out the ultimate punishment when Cole deflected past Hughes and into the net for the winner.
Cookstown pick up a losing bonus point and know that a win or draw this coming Saturday against Pembroke will ensure progress into the semi-finals.