Double festive cheer for Kilkeel hero Stevenson
Kilkeel1 Mossley1 (Kilkeel won 3-2 after shoot-out)
Kilkeel's Mark Stevenson will certainly remember Christmas 2017 for the rest of his life.
The vice-captain got engaged to his girlfriend Alison on Christmas Eve and then he stepped up yesterday to score the winner in the penalty shoot-out to earn his club the Kirk Cup trophy for the first time in their history.
The game had ended 1-1 after 70 minutes at Stormont's Playball and so it went to the shoot-out, where teams take it in turns at shuffles - the attacker has eight seconds to run at the keeper and try to score.
It was finely poised at 2-2 going into the last round of shuffles when Mossley's Jordan Robinson saw his effort strike the post and rebound wide.
And that gave Stevenson the opportunity to convert the winner for the jubilant Mournemen.
"This means everything to our club, our first major trophy," he enthused afterwards.
"We thought we had the game won when we scored with five minutes to go, but then they got a penalty stroke and levelled to force the shoot-out.
"But we wanted to win just that little bit more. The only thing that crossed my mind when taking the shoot-out was to make sure I didn't miss."
And so it turned out to be a double celebration for the Kilkeel man, who pushed Irish international John Jackson for the man of the match award.
"Yes, I got engaged to Alison on Christmas Eve so I have two reasons to be over the moon this Christmas," he said.
There were certainly plenty of chances in the opening 70 minutes of the final but, although the entertainment was good quality, the two goals didn't come until the final five minutes.
Mossley's Aaron Boyd fired wide with the first real opportunity as the Newtownabbey men came out of the stalls a lot more assured than their opponents, who had never been in a Kirk Cup final before.
Boyd again almost made a name for himself in the 22nd minute when he pounced on a mistake but clipped his effort against the post as Kilkeel keeper Sam Morris narrowed down the angle.
And the woodwork was struck at the other end a minute later, this time by John Finlay.
Kilkeel started the second half on the front foot and David Rae had a shot saved by Mossley keeper Owen Doole, who then blocked Stevenson at his near post.
But with Jackson superb at the heart of the Mossley defence, and not afraid to push forward when the opportunity arose, Ricky Lee's lads remained firmly in the frame.
Joel Cathcart had an effort blocked, as did Jackson from a penalty corner switch.
It was the Mourne side who finally broke the deadlock in the 65th minute when Ryan Cunningham latched onto an aerial ball and, although Doole came out to block, the Kilkeel ace hammered the rebound home despite Jackson's valiant effort to block it on the line.
They had barely finished celebrating, though, when Mossley won a penalty stroke which Jordan Robinson converted to send the game into the dramatic shoot-out.
It seemed Mossley had a chance to erase the memory of their 8-2 defeat in the final two years ago but, although Simon Todd and Cathcart both converted, Jackson and Will Aston both missed and Robinson hit the post.
Kilkeel's Gareth Russell and David Finlay put away their respective efforts, with Rae and Eddie Agnew being denied by keeper Doole.
And so it all fell to Stevenson to make it a really happy Christmas, not only for himself and his team, but also coaches Brian Niblock and Chris McConnell, who have turned them into a strong force in Ulster hockey.
Kilkeel: Sam Morris, Gary Niblock, Neil Stevenson, Gareth Russell, Mark Stevenson, Jonathan Aiken, David Finlay, Eddie Agnew, David Rae, Andrew Johnston, Mark Henning. Subs: Andrew Niblock, Richard Fraser, Ryan Cunningham, William Annett, Luke Russell, John Finlay, Chris McKee.
Mossley: Owen Doole, Stephen Clarke, Matthew Anderson, Ross McIvor, Joel Cathcart, Phil Kane, Jordan Robinson, Aaron Boyd, David Glenny, Simon Todd, John Jackson. Subs: Harry Dow, Tim Moreland, Matthew Sullivan, Ryan Lyall, Will Aston, Adam Monahan, Gordon McAllister.
Umpires: Les Allen, Kieran McGoldrick.