Davis hands Ballymena cup glory over Raphoe
Ballymena 1 - Raphoe 1 (Ballymena won 3-2 on penalties)
Good things come to those who wait. That's what Ballymena goalkeeper Joanne Davis must have been thinking to herself after her heroics helped her team lift the Senior Cup with a nail biting penalty shoot-out win over Raphoe at Coleraine on Saturday.
After the regulation 70 minutes and extra-time had failed to separate the teams who finished level at 1-1, Davis saved three strokes in the subsequent penalty decider which Ballymena won 3-2 to lift the trophy for the second time in three years.
Earlier she had prevented Raphoe from taking a first-half lead when she stopped a penalty stroke in the 15th minute.
The Ballymena heroine was playing second XI hockey when her club last won the cup but when then keeper Emma Leslie moved to Randalstown she grasped her chance with both hands.
She has been the first-choice number one ever since and Saturday's victory was her crowning glory much to the delight of her coach Mary Glass, who left no stone unturned in the build-up.
"Joanne has been having a great season and it's testament to her patience that she took her opportunity when it came along after we lost Emma," said Glass.
"She wasn't included in the cup-winning squad of two years ago but she moved up from the seconds in the following season and has been a regular ever since.
"Joanne made some super saves in the shoot-out and in the match itself, although there weren't too many clear-cut chances for either team.
"It was a great all-round team performance, although Holly Taggart, who is a member of the Ireland Under 16 squad and our only player with representative honours, had a terrific game in midfield."
Emma Gillespie gave Ballymena the lead from a 28th minute penalty corner but Raphoe levelled matters when Leanne Patterson scored high into the net from another set-piece two minutes later.
There was no further scoring and so the game went into penalties with Sabrina Barnett and Lyndsey Tinney netting for Raphoe and Grace McBurney along with Emma and Claire Gillespie scoring for Ballymena.
Despite not having to weather a metaphorical storm during the course of the game, Ballymena did so in a more literal sense in the build up to the final against the Donegal side.
Unaccustomed to the Coleraine pitch, as the Bannsiders play in a lower league, Glass arranged a practice match with the local side during the week when the conditions were atrocious.
Their game with Coleraine not only helped the players familiarise themselves with the surface but they also used the occasion to practice penalty-taking just in case the final went to the wire.
There was a good chance that penalties would have to be used to determine the outcome as the teams were well-matched going into the game with only one point separating them in the Senior One standings.
"We'd like to thank Coleraine for agreeing to play the game and allow us to hold a penalty shoot-out afterwards and it turned out to be a good idea." Glass added.
"It was an awful night but credit is due to all the players who took part and to my squad who also trained on two other nights in dreadful weather in the week leading up to the final. All their hard work has now paid off and we are delighted to have won the cup once again after a very close game against Raphoe."