McKee keeps Bann firmly in all-Ireland title frame
Banbridge stretched their unbeaten run to 10 yesterday in Dublin when they crushed UCD 6-2 to stay firmly in the EY Irish Hockey League title race.
And it was man of the match Johnny McKee who did most the damage with a blistering first half performance that saw him score once and set up two of Dane Ward's treble, and then won the penalty corner from which Matthew Bell scored his second to clinch the three points.
Bann currently lie second, two points behind Dublin giants Monkstown but have a crucial game in hand against Cork C of I scheduled for mid-January.
McKee set up Ward for the opener after just three minutes with a lovely baseline cross and then hammered in the second himself on 12 minutes.
Matthew Bell converted a penalty stroke to make it three and McKee set up Ward again before the students hit back through David Nolan and Ben McCrea.
But Bell's second from another set piece finished off UCD, with Ward completing his hat-trick towards the end.
Bann have now won five and drawn two IHL games, won their Irish Senior Cup tie, and won one and drew the other in the EuroHockey League series to take their unbeaten run to 10.
Meanwhile Lisnagarvey, with new signing Irish international Michael Robson in their ranks, ended their run of five games without a win by edging out bottom team Instonians 2-1.
The Blues had drawn two and lost two of their previous four IHL games as well as their Irish Senior Cup tie, but it was skipper Daniel Buser who ensured the win when he deflected home Matthew Nelson's cross nine minutes into the second half.
It was Paul Gleghorne who put Garvey ahead from a penalty corner only for William Robinson to level matters from a similar award, and although the win keeps Errol Lutton's team on the fringe of the title race, it leaves Inst still without a win but once again having come close.
The top three in the Ulster Premier League - Annadale, Kilkeel and Cookstown - all chalked up wins to ease away from the chasing pack.
The Dale found it difficult to see off a Belfast Harlequins side that were missing six regulars due to a variety of reasons, but player-coach Peter Caruth did the business by claiming a hat-trick in the 3-1 success.
It was the Quins that took a shock lead through David Coates when they were down to 10 men but Caruth converted a penalty stroke and then late in the game added two penalty corner conversions to take the sting out of Fergie Cosgrove's side.
Kilkeel won the Mourne derby at Newry 3-1 and Stuart Smyth struck twice as Cookstown hit five at Campbellians to stay third with games in hand.
There were also crucial away wins for Mossley at Raphoe and Civil Service at North Down to ease relegation worries.
Dean Wilson hit four as Antrim thumped Portrush 9-1 in Senior One, but main rivals South Antrim stayed in touch with a 6-3 win over Bangor.
Irish Hockey League: UCD 2 (D Nolan, B McCrea) Banbridge 6 (D Ward 3, M Bell 2, J McKee); Lisnagarvey 2 (P Gleghorne, D Buser) Instonians 1 (W Robinson); Pembroke 3 (A Sothern, D Quinn, P Good) Railway 1 (K Springett); Monkstown 5 (D Carson 2, S Hyland 2, R Quirke) Glenanne 1 (S O'Donoghue); Three Rock 2 (J Hosking, R Canning) Cork C of I 1 (J Dale)
Premier League: Annadale 3 (P Caruth 3) Harlequins 1 (D Coates); Campbellians 0 Cookstown 5 (S Smyth 2, T Sloan, G Allen, P Thompson); North Down 1 (D Shepherd) Civil Service 2 (C Barnes 2); Raphoe 0 Mossley 1 (R McIvor); Newry 1 (J Greer) Kilkeel 3 (D Finlay, R Cunningham, G Niblock)
Senior One: South Antrim 6 (S Watt 2, P Maguire, C Henry, J Brown, A Glass) Bangor 3; Antrim 9 (D Wilson 4, S McIlroy 3, S Gleghorne, J McMeekin) Portrush 1 (J Power); Queen's 1 Cliftonville 2 (M McPartland, S Anderson)