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Banbridge stumble at final hurdle against Monkstown

By Graham Hamilton

It will be of little consolation after yesterday's 2-1 defeat in the Irish Hockey League final to Monkstown, but still take a bow coach Mark Tumilty and your Banbridge squad after what has been a remarkable season.

After a run of 40 games unbeaten, the players couldn't hide their disappointment at losing what was their final match of the season ... the one which they really wanted to win.

It's no disgrace to lose to a Monkstown team that has now won the all-Ireland crown for the third successive season, particularly when you played well enough to take the game into extra time at the very least.

But the chance of a unique five-trophy clean sweep was there for the taking and now it will never be done as hockey moves into a new era with the top provincial teams joining together for a fully-fledged all-Ireland set-up next season.

Four trophies is not to be sniffed at but it was the IHL crown that Bann really wanted, especially its route into the elite European competition.

They played the much better hockey against a more physical team relying heavily on aerial balls and the ability to put away penalty corners - they converted two of their four set-pieces and struck woodwork with another.

Both their goals came from Richard Sykes, the first a drag flick high into the roof of the net after five minutes and the second a drag flick low into the bottom corner 12 minutes from time.

Bann, on the other hand, won six penalty corners and failed to get the ball past international goalkeeper David Fitzgerald on each occasion. And, in the end, that was the difference between gold and silver medals.

Bann did have their chances. Jamie Wright forced home the equaliser while Stephen Dowds, Neil Gilmore and Owen Magee all came close and then Eugene Magee's magic seemed to have won a penalty corner at least but more likely a penalty stroke when a Monkstown body blocked his goalbound effort ... only for the umpires to award a long corner instead.

"Unfortunately we didn't get the result we wanted, but it is always a tough battle between Monkstown and us," said Bann skipper Eugene Magee.

Meanwhile Instonians won't be competing in the Irish Hockey League next season following their defeats against Railway Union and UCC in the Wild Card Play-Offs, with the Dubliners claiming the last place.

Irish Hockey League (Dublin)

Semi-finals: Banbridge 2 (M Bell 2) Pembroke 1 (H Spain); Monkstown 4 Three Rock 4 (Monkstown won 4-2 on penalty shoot-out)

Wild Card play-offs: Instonians 0 Railway Union 1; UCC 3 Instonians 0: Railway Union 7 UCC 3

Senior Two: North Down 3 (G Bailie, S Forrest, R Willis) South Antrim 2 (P Maguire, A Glass); Raphoe 10 (G Patterson 2, M Leckey 2, P Stewart 2, W Kilpatrick, P Meehan, S Cleverley, B Wallace) Antrim 0; Campbellians 5 Portrush 1

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