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Skipper Sarah nets winner as Lurgan land fourth Ulster title

 

Champions: Lurgan celebrate their fourth successive Ulster Premier league title
Champions: Lurgan celebrate their fourth successive Ulster Premier league title
Captain Sarah McClure (left) and Carla Johnston with the trophy

By John Flack

Lurgan were crowned Ulster Premier League champions for the fourth year in a row after a hard fought 1-0 home win over Banbridge last night.

Team captain Sarah McClure was the heroine as her late strike clinched the trophy after Banbridge had produced a battling performance.

But Lurgan have made a habit of grinding out wins this season in the face of adversity and it was the same last night.

There were just seven minutes remaining when McClure hit the winning goal after her team had been on the back foot for much of the game.

Now the Co Armagh side have set their sights on returning to the Irish Hockey League next season after failing to get out of the second-tier in the current campaign.

Lurgan took part in the old style IHL on two occasions in the past and now their objective is to get back to the top table.

"It was always our ambition to retain the Ulster title this season, and now we've done that, we are delighted for everyone at the club," said McClure.

"The IHL is also important to us and getting back into it will be one of our aims going forward."

Lurgan have now won the title every year since 2015 when Ards, Belfast Harlequins and Pegasus left the local set-up to join the EY Irish Hockey League.

Coach Robbie McMinn has supervised all four Ulster titles and a first ever Ulster Shield triumph, achieved in 2016.

Last night it was Banbridge who made the better start as their hosts found difficulty finding their rhythm but Lurgan gradually seized the initiative and McClure grabbed the all-important goal when her set-piece flew low into the net to spark the celebrations.

At the other end of the table, Randalstown defeated Ballymena 4-0 to guarantee a relegation play-off and send their opponents back into Senior One.

CJ McDonald was captain fantastic as her hat-trick sealed the deal, with Grace-Louise Palmer also on target.

Town will meet Club KV in the play-off after Omagh failed in their bid to finish runners-up in Senior One following a 1-1 draw at Portadown.

In the EY IHL, Ards are now in danger of automatic relegation after Muckross defeated UCD 2-1 to move two points clear of the Ulster side at the bottom.

Results: EY IHL: UCD 1 Muckross 2

Ulster Premier League: Lurgan 1 (S McClure) Banbridge 0; Randalstown 4 (CJ McDonald 3, G-L Palmer) Ballymena 0

Senior One: Portadown 1 (A Black) Omagh 1 (L Long)

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