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Sarah cool as Lurgan eye fourth title in row

 

Staying grounded: Sarah McClure hopes Lurgan can land the Ulster Premier League title once again
Staying grounded: Sarah McClure hopes Lurgan can land the Ulster Premier League title once again

By Graham Hamilton

Lurgan will lift the Ulster Premier League title for the fourth year in a row if they defeat Banbridge at home tonight, but team captain Sarah McClure is taking nothing for granted.

That's not surprising considering Bann sent challengers Ballymoney crashing to their heaviest loss of the season only last Saturday with a stunning 5-1 win at Havelock Park.

Lurgan need two points to extend their remarkable run of success in the top flight and, if they were to slip up tonight, they would have another opportunity on Saturday when they travel to Lisnagarvey.

"We know Banbridge is going to be a very tough game and they are a very good, strong, young team," said McClure.

"It was a difficult game when we played them a couple of weeks ago and won 3-1 so we are expecting a similar challenge.

"Of course, it would be great to win the title again for all the supporters, players and staff but we aren't there yet."

Lurgan lost former captain Charlene Stewart this season due to maternity leave but gained another influential player in Natalie Barr, who is back home after completing a hockey scholarship in the United States.

Barr, sister of Irish internationals Bethany and Serena, now playing with UCD and English club Beeston respectively, has also been helping out head coach Robbie McMinn.

McClure added: "Natalie has been great for us in both her coaching and playing roles and her experience and knowledge of the game has really benefited us this season."

Another influential player this season has been striker Jo-Ann Reid, who has proved a handful for opposition throughout the campaign which has seen Lurgan go unbeaten since October.

Reid, too, is wary of the threat that will be posed by Banbridge tonight.

She said: "Banbridge have really established themselves in the league, so it will be really tough against a well-organised side but we will be hoping for the win to take the pressure off going into the last game of the season on Saturday.

"There is a group of girls in the Lurgan team who have played together for a long time and know how to win the league.

"But there has also been an opportunity for younger players to step up and it would be a great achievement for them to experience the same feeling."

There is also a crucial game at the other end of the table tonight at Antrim Forum where a win for second-bottom Randalstown over basement side Ballymena would condemn the latter to a swift return to Senior One.

Town captain CJ McDonald expects another close battle after the teams shared the spoils in a scoreless draw earlier in the season.

She said: "We expect the Ballymena game to be difficult as we both have a lot to lose."

Ballymena captain Claire Gillespie admits her team have found the step up from the second tier hard to adjust to after their promotion last season.

"As a club, we worked hard for several seasons trying to reach the Premier League and last year we were elated to be given our chance," said the defender.

"It has been a tough season both on and off the pitch but although results haven't gone our way in certain matches, the level of hockey has been fantastic and we have enjoyed seeing our own game improve with the high standard of opposition."

TONIGHT: EY IHL: UCD v Muckross.

Ulster Premier League: Lurgan v Banbridge (7.45pm); Mossley v Ulster Elks (8pm); Randalstown v Ballymena (7.30pm)

Senior One: Portadown v Omagh (8pm).

TOMORROW: EY IHL: Railway v Pembroke.

SATURDAY: Irish Hockey Trophy final: Dromore v Clonmel (Serpentine Avenue, 12.45pm).

Ulster Premier: Banbridge v Ballymena (1pm); Lisnagarvey v Lurgan (1pm); Mossley v Ballymoney (4pm); Queen's v Randalstown (1pm).

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