Lisnagarvey are pushed to the wire but they remain supreme
THE actual reality is that Lisnagarvey remain supreme on the hockey highway Yet the Irish Senior Cup winners for the eighth time in 10 seasons know that the challenge from Pembroke Wanderers will continue to be bold and possibly firmer - when they meet again at Belfield next Saturday in the all-Ireland league play-offs (which also involve Cork C of I over the holiday weekend).
After playing in Lisnagarvey's ninth final in 10 years, and clutching his 10th medal as if it were his first, the 35-year-old Olympian Jimmy Kirkwood said: "My reaction is still lone of relief. We were undoubtedly" the stronger side, but we were scared at times."
This relates to the 4-3 scoreline: Pembroke, inspired by goalkeeper Nigel Henderson, refused to be over-run and rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 down to keep a memorable match alive to the end.
There were a couple of stages, too. in which the avidly supported Leinster champions looked as though they could live with their peers. The first was when, having not panicked after an alarmingly unsteady start in which goals were conceded to Mark Tumilty and Daniel Clarke in the opening 13 minutes, Wanderers hit back for Andy Cooke to register a reply following their first attack of substance. They also went close to earning a penalty stroke.
Furthermore, the game was kept on a reasonably even keel early in the second half and. perhaps surprisingly. Pembroke finished up by winning the short-corner count, 7-6. Lisnagarvey. however. carried much the greater penetrative power through Kirkwood and player-of-the match Clarke, who revelled on the Belfield surface.
As usual, too, Robbie Taylor sampled every experience of the afternoon: he set up Clarke's deflection for the second goal, sent a penalty stroke wide, had another penalty saved defiantly by Henderson, scored from a corner, was then sent off, and finally lifted the trophy aloft.
It was, though, the man with whom Taylor duelled, Andy Cooke, who, along with Henderson, did most to keep Pembroke in the picture. He reacted sharply to put away their first goal when Stephen Stewart's set-piece shot was parried by Raymond Geddis. Then, in the second half. after Stewart had succeeded directly in reducing the leeway to before Clarke plundered Lisnagarvey's fourth. the persistent Cooke again brought the margin to the minimum with the reverse-stick.
Padraig Carley, who forced that opening, and Turlough O Siochain, who took on Kirkwood, showed at times with Devin Donnelly and Cooke that the Pembroke midfield could yet be a damaging force as Europe still beckons.