Seconds reach Junior Cup final in thrilling semi-final

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Cookstown 5-6 Banbridge Seconds

A ROSS McCandless short corner 10 minutes from time proved the winning goal to send Bann to Dublin for the Irish Junior Cup final in mid-April.

Bann lost on penalty strokes at the same venue last season and were determined to exact revenge and reach another Junior Cup final, which was last won by the club in 2005.

Bann went into the game missing their talismanic captain Doug Anderson but were able to call upon first 11 players Ben Cosgrove and Johnny McKee to bolster a youthful squad that had produced terrific performances away to Fingal and Cork Church of Ireland in this season’s competition.

In near artic conditions Bann started the game looking to employing their slick passing on the oppositions but encountered a well organised Cookstown team, who were happy to soak up pressure and play on the counter. Within five minutes the home side’s game plan worked perfectly with two decisive moments.

The first goal came from a fine run and cross producing a tidy finish at the back post and the second shortly after producing a corner that was slickly finished with a variation.

Bann were shell-shocked, but credit to the young side as they composed themselves and kept to their principles and within five minutes had halved the deficit with a fine passing move which resulted in ex international David McAnulty sweetly finishing at the near post.

The talented Stuart Smyth was causing the Bann defence all sorts of problems and it was from a swift counter that he rounded the keeper to supply a simple finish for a Cookstown forward to restore the home sides two goal advantage, 3:1 with barely 12 minutes gone.

After the frantic start the game settled and Bann started to dominate the ball with the midfield of Scott McCandless, Cosgrove, McCracken and McKee providing excellent forward ball for livewire Rory Woods who was a constant menace for the Cookstown rear-guard. After a few unsuccessful ventures into the Cookstown circle, the pressure finally told as Woods stole ball from a defender and weaved his way into the circle to fed Ryan Bell who dispatched expertly past former Bann Keeper Michael Anderson to reduce the deficit.

Bann now had their tails up and within two minutes were level when Ross McCandless dispatched a trademark drag flick from his second attempt. Although Cookstown were still looking very dangerous on the counter, it was Bann that was sorry to hear the half time whistle, as the momentum had firmly swung the local’s way.

The second period started in snowy conditions and Bann reacted sluggishly letting the home side grab the early initiative and they deservedly retook the lead from a corner variation. Bann slowly started to increase the standard of play and midway through the half drew level from a Ross McCandless drag flick that rocketed into the top right corner of the net 4-4.

Again the locals were on top and could have grabbed the lead when both Woods and Bell had efforts on goal, however Bann were made to pay, when Cookstown worked an opening well to finish neatly, making the score 5-4.

Back came Bann and within two minutes of Ross McCandless returning to the field after a green card, he completed his hat-trick to bring the game to 5-5 with 16 minutes still to play.

At this stage the game was end to end with both goalkeepers making smart saves, the decisive moment in the match came when young Johnny McKee ghosted past a couple of defenders before finding a defender’s foot in the circle. At this stage the penalty corner defensive unit of Cookstown were looking very vulnerable and for the fourth time Ross McCandless produced a low hard flick that once again found the back board.

Bann now found themselves in the lead for first time in the tie and this time it was Cookstown’s turn to respond. The home side efforts were helped when young Aaron Reid was sent to the sin bin for a poor tackle but as Bann reset their defensive line limiting the space behind the defenders,

Cookstown struggled to create any clear cut chances and as the final whistle sounded it was met by cheers from the very happy travelling support.

The talented young squad now travel to the National Stadium in Dublin on Sunday April 14 for the Irish Junior Cup Final against Monkstown. The squad would like to thank Roger Martin for his assistance on the bench and the large support that interrupted Mother’s Day to travel to Cookstown.