Lisnagarvey a six hit as they clinch all-Ireland hockey crown
Lisnagarvey 6 Annadale 1
Lisnagarvey have been crowned EY Irish Hockey League champions with one game to spare after they hit Annadale for six at Hillsborough last night.
The trophy was sent from Dublin by courier and collected in Mallusk in time to be handed over to skipper James Corry immediately after the game.
Garvey's success will go down as one achieved with the youngest winning squad yet, with coach Errol Lutton having eight teenagers blending in with a handful of experienced players.
Very few would have predicted them taking the all-Ireland crown at the start of the season when they lost Paul Gleghorne, Sean Murray, Michael Robson and Neal Glassey to European clubs as they sought a higher standard to further their international careers, and also established regulars including captain Daniel Buser and prolific marksman Timmy Cockram who were unavailable.
But after a shaky start, during which they lost two of their opening four games, the Blues settled down as the young players gelled in and the outcome has been a remarkable league run of 13 unbeaten games - 11 wins and two draws.
"The players deserve their moment of glory," said Lutton afterwards.
"It has been a marvellous run, particularly since the draw against Glenanne in February.
"But the season isn't over yet - they'll have to keep their feet on the ground because there is the Anderson Cup semi-final on Tuesday and then the Champions Trophy play-offs in May."
The win over Annadale means they can't be caught at the top with just one round of games to come on Saturday, April 27 after the Easter break.
Garvey's final league game is the return clash with Annadale at Strathearn, while second placed Three Rock Rovers go to Cork C of I, third placed Banbridge go to Cookstown, and fourth placed Glenanne host Dublin rivals Monkstown.
Last night Andy Williamson gave Garvey the lead with a tap-in at the far post and schoolboy Jonny Lynch got the second before Kent Irwin pulled one back for the Dale.
But the game was wrapped up after Matthew Nelson snapped up a rebound from a James Lorimer penalty corner which was quickly followed by another from his big brother Daniel.
Lynch and Williamson completed their doubles to start the celebrations.
Meanwhile Banbridge provided one of the comebacks of the season when they shrugged off a six goal first leg deficit to beat Kilkeel 7-0 and qualify for the Anderson Cup semi-finals on a 9-8 aggregate.
Unlike the first leg, when Bann fielded an understrength side which succumbed 8-2, the Havelock Park side were at full strength for the return leg and they showed how clinical they can be in front of goal with a seven-goal haul.
Eugene Magee struck twice and also on the mark were Zach McClelland, Josh Moffett, Alex Tinney, David Rae and Luke Witherow.
Bann will now face Cookstown and Garvey tackle Instonians in the double-header semi-finals scheduled for Tuesday at Garvey's Hillsborough base.
Newry secured a Sussex Regiment Cup semi-final place against North Down after they beat South Antrim 4-1 last night, with Civil Service to meet Queen's in the other semi-final, both of which will be played on April 27.
Finally, Three Rock Rovers went down 4-2 to Belgian giants KHC Dragons yesterday to miss out on reaching the EuroHockey League's quarter-finals.
The Dubliners will now face another Belgian side in Waterloo Ducks (or English side Surbiton) tomorrow (11.45) in a game which will decide Ireland's rankings for next season's competition.
EY Irish Hockey League: Lisnagarvey 6 (A Williamson 2, J Lynch 2, M Nelson, D Nelson) Annadale 1 (K Irwin)
Anderson Cup quarter-final 2nd leg: Banbridge 7 (E Magee 2, Z McClelland, J Moffett, A Tinney, D Rae, L Witherow) Kilkeel 0
Sussex Regiment Cup: Newry Olympic 4 (K McWilliams, D England, R Simms, C McKnight) South Antrim 1 (J Brown); Belfast Harlequins 1 (A Kenny) Civil Service 3