Matthew Bell rings up derby win as Banbridge break clear at top
Matthew Bell, Greg Allen and Peter Caruth took the plaudits of their respective clubs as Banbridge, Cookstown and Annadale all had something big to celebrate over the weekend.
Bell was man of the match and also scored the only goal of the game, a penalty stroke, as Bann won the big Ulster derby against Lisnagarvey in the table-topping EY Irish Hockey League clash yesterday.
And Allen and Caruth both bagged hat-tricks on Saturday evening as the Tyrone men and the Dale booked their places in Boxing Day's Kirk Cup final.
First, yesterday's showdown at Hillsborough where Bann put to rest last season's three defeats at the hands of their fierce rivals.
They had a slight edge throughout, were prepared to commit more players forward, and defensively were rock solid as they jumped to the top of the table, a point ahead of Cork C of I and Monkstown, with Garvey slipping to fourth.
It was Garvey's first IHL defeat since the second game of last season but, without Michael Watt and Timmy Cockram from last year, they lacked the cutting edge upfront to trouble a Bann defence in which Bell and Kyle Marshall were outstanding.
The first half offered little, with the fear of losing possibly a major factor, but then Johnny McKee made his way along the byline at the end of the third quarter before being upended and Bell stepped up to calmly put away the penalty stroke.
Eugene Magee almost added a second but Garvey keeper James Milliken pulled off a wonderful save, whereas Bann keeper Gareth Lennox was hardly troubled, with the only real chances falling to Andy Williamson who put one wide and another over the bar.
Bann coach Mark Tumilty said afterwards: "We managed the game very well. We were strong in defence, worked hard in midfield and committed more forward than Garvey.
"It's a great three points away from home, but what also pleased me was that it was the third IHL game in a row that we hadn't conceded a penalty corner, which is great at this level."
In the other IHL games, Instonians lost 3-1 at Cork C of I where a Julian Dale hat-trick in the second quarter was their undoing, while Monkstown and Pembroke chalked up wins and UCD and Glenanne drew.
In Saturday evening's Kirk Cup semi-final double-header, a disappointing crowd missed fine displays from Allen and Caruth in particular as Cookstown beat Portadown 3-1 and the Dale beat Belfast Harlequins 4-0.
Allen, the Premier League's top scorer, put away three from penalty corners to give the Red Army their seventh Boxing Day appearance in the past 11 years.
Johnny Taylor converted a penalty stroke for Portadown in the second half but they were always trailing their counterparts.
Caruth, revelling in his role as Annadale's player/coach, put away two tremendous efforts and went on to complete his hat-trick, with Oli Brown getting the other in a four-goal win.
Finally, Newry's recent progress continued with a 2-1 success over Campbellians at home while Raphoe lost by the only goal of the game in Comber against North Down.
EY Irish Hockey League: Lisnagarvey 0 Banbridge 1 (M Bell), Cork C of I 3 (J Dale 3) Instonians 1 (J Watson); Monkstown 4 (K Good 2, A Ward, S Cole) Pembroke 1 (H Spain); UCD 5 (J Duncan 2, B McCrea 2, A Meates) Glenanne 5 (S Brownlow 3, D Keogh, S O'Donoghue); Railway 0 Three Rock 2 (L Madeley 2)
Kirk Cup semi-finals: Portadown 1 (J Taylor) Cookstown 3 (G Allen 3); Annadale 4 (P Caruth 3, O Brown) Belfast Harlequins 0
Ulster Premier League: Newry 2 (K Fletcher, D England) Campbellians 1 (J Easlea); North Down 1 (P Wilson) Raphoe 0
Senior One: Antrim 2 (J McMeekin, D Wilson) South Antrim 3 (A Glass 2, J Brown); Armagh 0 Queen's 5