McKee and Nelson give Irish coach a big nudge
Two young Ulster marksmen, Banbridge's Jonathan McKee and Lisnagarvey's Matthew Nelson, are doing their utmost to stake a claim for a place in Ireland's squad for next month's World League 2 series in Belfast.
Both impressed coach Craig Fulton in the recent training camp in Spain and on Saturday they underlined their credentials again with inspiring displays as their respective teams remained in joint top place in the EY Irish Hockey League.
McKee was particularly impressive, scoring a hat-trick and assisting in another as Bann crushed Instonians 6-0 at Shaw's Bridge, while Nelson bagged two as Garvey came from 4-2 down to edge out Pembroke 5-4.
McKee showed all-round ability with an individual effort for his first, a strike on the reverse after ghosting into the circle for his second, and the third came from a penalty corner variation.
He also set up Bruce McCandless for one of his two goals while Eugene Magee's penalty corner strike completed what was Inst's heaviest defeat of the season.
To be fair to Steven Redpath's lads, they showed a little rustiness - the stop-start IHL programme doesn't help, and they also lost a handful of games through frost-bound pitches.
Yesterday, they upped their performance and held holders Monkstown 4-4 in the Irish Senior Cup quarter-final before losing 5-4 after a penalty strokes shoot-out.
Two down, they levelled through Mark Irwin and a William Robinson penalty corner and then from 4-2 down they levelled once again through John Watson and a Matthew McCord penalty stroke.
Although losing the shoot-out, it was a real gutsy display which augurs well for upcoming games against potentially easier opposition over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Garvey dug themselves out of a hole when they scored three late goals to pip Pembroke 5-4.
Nelson gave the Blues the lead with an astonishing goal - back-pedalling, he met a looping cross with a tennis-style overhead smash to score - but Pembroke, and international Alan Sothern in particular, were clinical with the few chances they got to build up a 4-2 lead.
It was James Lorimer who got Garvey's second, with the late goals coming from a Nelson deflection, a Timmy Cockram drag-flick penalty corner and then Paul Gleghorne's dramatic winner at the back post.
In the Ulster Senior League, a Greg Allen hat-trick helped Cookstown win 4-2 at Belfast Harlequins to take them top of the table on goal difference over Kilkeel, who had no game.
And Annadale spread the goals around as they beat North Down 5-1 at Comber to keep up the pressure, with Callum Robson marking his first game back from the injury he received in the Boxing Day Kirk Cup final success with one of the goals.
South Antrim's 6-1 win over Premier League club Campbellians means they go into the hat for the Irish Hockey Trophy semi-final draw along with Queen's, Limerick and the winners of next week's tie between North Down and Ashton.
Irish Senior Cup quarter-final: Instonians 4 (M Irwin, W Robinson, M McCord, J Watson) Monkstown 4 (K Good, D Carson, L Cole, G Watkins). Monkstown win 5-4 on strokes
EY Irish Hockey League: Instonians 0 Banbridge 6 (J McKee 3, B McCandless 2, E Magee); Lisnagarvey 5 (M Nelson 2, T Cockram, J Lorimer, P Gleghorne) Pembroke 4 (A Sothern 3, D Quinn); UCD 1 (B McCrea) Cork C of I (S Sweetnam 2, P Sweetnam) 3; Glenanne 1 (S O'Donoghue) Three Rock 3 (J Hosking, L Madeley, M Darling); Railway Union v Monkstown (postponed)
Premier League: Harlequins 2 (N Anderson, L McClelland) Cookstown 4 (G Allen 3, C Chambers); Civil Service 2 (A Hagan, S Armstrong) Portadown 2 (N Magee, J Curran); North Down 1 (G McKeown) Annadale 5 (B Wallace, H Patterson, C Heath, J Cox, C Robson); Newry v Raphoe (postponed)
Senior One: Queen's v Ballynahinch (postponed); Armagh v Bangor (postponed)
Irish Hockey Trophy quarter-final: Campbellians 1 (A Brown) South Antrim 6 (H Cartmill 3, C Henry, P Maguire, A Glass)