Avoca crown centenary celebrations with cup win

 

AT LAST, the world's oldest hockey trophy, the Irish Senior Cup, has been filled with nectar in the Wishing Well.

Avoca's centenary celebrations were crowned at Belfield yesterday when Lisnagarvey were finally overcome, in an epic final which stretched to exhaustion point (over two day) to 200 minutes..

It was the indefatigable Limerick man Robert Ryan who crashed home the winner 2 1/2 minutes from the end of extra time as the spectre loomed of a penalty shoot out between two sides who equally were refusing to lose.

Somehow, Avoca seemed to dig deepest into whatever energy was left in the ultimate 15 minute period. The irrepressible Galahad Goulet, joined by the admirably skilled Enda Gallanagh in particular, threatened to break the deadlock but Alan Dowd resisted defiantly in Lisnagarvey's last stand until Nigel Kingston, as resourceful as ever, placed a pass through the middle for Ryan to score triumphantly.

Thus, Ulster's 16 year hold on the trophy was broken in what must be reckoned as the outstanding final in the history of the competition (sponsored for the first time this season by Nissan).

Avoca's first victory was to be relished especially by the sides veteran figures, Mark Cullen (35) it's a great weight off my shoulders - and 33 year- old Kingston, who have been ever present since the Blackrock club's highly successful era started in 1982.

At the start of yesterday's replay, though, it seemed that Lisnagarvey had their sights set on adding to their seven wins in a row up to 1994. Jimmy Kirkwood moved into a three man attack and Avoca, without Brian Ganly (who had dislocated a shoulder on Saturday) were living under pressure. However, Goulet, notably, raised the first half siege in breaking down two of Robbie Taylor's short corners.

Then, three minutes after the interval, Avoca snatched the lead when Ryan earned a long corner and Gallanagh got the touch when the ball was shelled across the circle by Goulet. And soon the Blackrock side found themselves two up when Colin Hade put the finishing touch to a short corner involving Philip Sarratt.

The Lisnagarvey riposte came immediately not only from their established celebrities but from two of their younger figures, Brian Waring and Colin Clarke, surging from the back. The score was level by the 58th minute with John Gray scoring in a goalmouth melee and Taylor finding the target direct from a set piece.

In the first portion of extra time, Lisnagarvey again threatened, especially through the long striding Daniel Clarke, to ruin Avoca's hopes. But goalkeeper Peter Darley, the unsung Ian Keogh (coping with Kirkwood) and Trevor Dagg each made vital interventions, leaving Ryan, after a brief breather, to sink the crucial shot and climb the terrace fencing in ecstasy.

On Saturday, it was largely the goalkeepers, the assertive Darley and an inspired Raymond Geddis who in turn prolonged the epic. In a searching, evenly balanced first half, JP Murphy fired Avoca into the lead from a Dagg free but the equaliser soon came when Julian Stevenson snapped up the loose ball off Darley's pads following a setpiece drive from Taylor.

Geddis kept out shots from Goulet and Murphy as Lisnagarvey came under pressure after the interval but then Darley was required to defy Daniel Clarke and Kirkwood before Clarke volleyed his side in front after Stevenson had made the incision to the back line. Avoca held their nerve, though, and well deserved to bring the game into extra time when Rory Kirwan cracked in a short corner.

Then in the first 15 minute period, Geddis again kept Lisnagarvey in contention with saves from Kirwan and Anton Scott before much incident was crammed into the closing act. First, it seemed that Ryan might have been awarded a penalty stroke rather than a corner when he was felled at full steam in the circle.

Next, although Lisnagarvey were down to nine men, a break saw Kirkwood racing clear of Dagg and a despairing Ganly and Darley to put away what seemed to be the decisive score. But Darley - one of the few people in the arena to have noticed that the ball brushed Kirkwood's foot as he dispossessed Dagg in midfield - appealed strongly and sincerely to umpire Alvin Carson. And following consultation with the other umpire, Philip Shine, the goal was disallowed.