BANBRIDGE came into this final group game knowing that a draw would take them through to the Kirk Cup semi finals, but Mark Tumilty was adamant that only a win would do on what was a clear and warm Saturday afternoon at Havelock Park in front of a highly expectant home crowd.
Bann had Ross Beattie and Hugh McShane absent as well as the injured Scott Caruth, Owen Magee and Ben Cosgrove; but were able to welcome back Steven Dowds from an ankle injury which saw him sidelined for four weeks.
The game started with a number of early errors in midfield by Banbridge, resulting in several circle entries by Garvey. Fortunately for the home team these led to nothing.
Banbridge slowly began to assert themselves against their arch rivals, who had succeeded in doing what Bann recently failed to do by beating Instonians at Shaw’s Bridge the previous weekend. Garvey were without injured star duo Timmy Cockram and Mark Raphael but still remained highly formidable opponents, proven by their early possession in midfield and strong running on the ball within the home side’s 25 yard line.
Gareth Lennox was called upon on a number of occasions, saving well from close range when required and intelligent distribution from the centre back pairing of Stephen Forbes and Drew Carlisle saw Colin Dowds and Bruce McCandless receiving a lot of ball in midfield in order to release Philip Brown on the right flank as well as linking well with Steven Dowds and Dane Ward in advanced positions.
Bann began to dominate midfield through applying heavy pressure on Garvey players and aggressive tackling, resulting in high levels of turnover ball and enabling counterattacking hockey.
From one such incident, Bruce McCandless regained possession in midfield and fed Peter Brown who found the advancing Ian Livingstone. He then fed a charging Dane Ward on the right side who carried the ball into the circle, drew out the goalkeeper then pulled the ball back and finished on his reverse side, his effort just evading a Garvey defender on the line.
The remainder of the first half saw more aggressive attacking hockey by Banbridge, seeing Simon Magowan, Josh Moffett and Dane Ward combining well in advanced positions and forcing the visiting keeper into a number of good saves.
Bann began the second period in a similar vein to that of the first, lacking intensity and conceding possession too easily to the opposition. Garvey took advantage of a Banbridge green card to expose their defence and a crashed ball into the Banbridge circle saw a fine deflected finish from Daniel Buser, leaving Lennox with no chance.
This set back spurred Bann into moving the ball more quickly, carefully valuing possession and finding passes in order to build a playing platform from within the opposition half. From a break down the left hand side, Ward found Moffett who gained circle entry, jinxed along the Garvey baseline and was able to find an opposing foot, resulting in a short corner for his side. The corner was flicked home strongly by Stevie Dowds down the keeper’s near post after a well-executed dummy by Matthew Bell at the top of the circle.
From this point on a number of green and yellow cards for both teams saw the game become slightly disjointed, with both sides exposing spaces which were appearing within the midfield and forward lines, with Steven Dowds and Bruce McCandless able to carry the ball unopposed for a period of time in the opposition half. Bann defended stoically to the end and the final whistle was greeted by Bann players and supporters alike.