Banbridge 0 Cardiff & Met HC (Wales) 4

Banbridge fell at the final hurdle for the second time in a matter of weeks as they were made to pay for their efforts in finishing top of an extremely difficult group over the previous three days. Cardiff & Met over-powered the locals as their fresher squad, who had played a game less than the Banbridge side over the previous three days, scored four goals in the second half of the final to secure what may well be Wales Hockey’s finest ever European result.
Banbridge, already without Peter Brown who had sustained a hamstring injury in the first group game, were without Johnny McKee who had travelled home on Sunday evening due to university exams and then Jamie Wright also pulled up with a hamstring injury early in the final. Owen Magee also played only a little part as he had fallen ill overnight with a bug. So given the constraints put on them it was always going to be a tough ask for the Banbridge side who had also travelled to the tournament without a number of regulars. And so it proved as they were defeated comprehensively by an impressive Welsh side who two weeks earlier had narrowly failed to win promotion to the English Hockey Premier League through the play-off system.
The game had started so well for the Bann side who were the dominant team for the opening twenty-five minutes. From the start they looked dangerous with Bruce McCandless’s surging run and cross-come-shot just failing to be turned in at the back post by Mark Campbell. The Ross Beattie’s incisive run into the circle created problems for the Welsh but his pull back was superbly taken by the Cardiff defender.
Bann were enjoying the majority of the possession on the opening quarter but were not testing the Cardiff goalkeeper. And as the half went on the Welsh side grew in confidence and won their first penalty corner in the seventeenth minute although it was mistrapped by the stopper and hit his foot. Bann themselves had a penalty corner after Dowd’s surging run into the circle but the Bann effort also came to nothing. One more half-chance did present itself but a Bann deflection to a powerful cross was wide of the goal.
The final ten minutes of the half was a back-to-the-walls period for the Bann side. First Gareth Lennox had to be alert to save a 1v1 with the Cardiff forward, before twice more having to save and clear during a period of sustained Welsh pressure. He then made a tremendous save to deny the Welsh side from a switched penalty corner effort.
Despite a good opening period Bann would have felt lucky to go into the break on level terms.
The second half started as the first had ended with Lennox standing between Cardiff and the goal. He made two tremendous saves within the first ninety seconds of the half. However he was powerless to prevent the Welsh side taking the lead in only the second minute of the half from a cleverly worked penalty corner.
And more was to follow as the welsh side won three more penalty corners in the next two minutes. The first was blocked by Stephen Dowds, the second by Bruce McCandless, before Bann happily saw the third effort go wide of the post. Bann were withstanding continuous pressure in the early stages of the second half.
There were the occasional glimmers of hope, but Owen Magee, Eugene Magee and Dowds all played poor passes when in good possession inside the welsh twenty-five. Brad Logan did also find Hugh McShane in the Welsh circle but his ball across goal was well cleared by the goalkeeper.
But Bann were rapidly running out of steam on the pitch after a hard four days. Lennox was again alert to save and clear another Cardiff chance. And at times the Bann defence played risky balls which put their team in unnecessary trouble, Bell having to clear up more than once.
The second Cardiff goal arrived on twenty-one minutes courtesy of a penalty corner. The straight shot evaded Lennox who will feel that he should have done better.
Bann now knew that they had nothing to lose and withdrew a defender in favour of an attacker to try to rescue something from the game. It nearly worked as Logan found his way into the Welsh circle but he could not trouble the goalkeeper. But the game was now far too open and Bann’s lack of energy and legs was to cost them dear in a dramatic two minute spell.
Firstly from a swift counter-attack Drew Carlisle conceded a penalty stroke and earned himself a yellow card suspension. Lennox was again the hero saving the stroke with his forearm. However less than a minute later Cardiff had themselves a second penalty stroke. Bell’s ball out from the back found the welsh centre forward who rounded Lennox before somehow missing an open goal. The ball then found its way to a second welsh player whose first effort was saved by Lennox and then his second effort hit Phillip Brown on the line. The Cardiff player made no mistake from the spot.
A minute later it was four as the Welsh scored from another penalty corner. The ball appeared to never leave the circle but the umpire awarded the goal and the Bann players were too weary to argue.
A massive effort by the Banbridge team to top what was a particularly tough group had left their tanks empty during a second half period in which they were simply over-run by their welsh opponents. And again the Bann side will rue their inability to defend the set pieces.
However, overall it had been job done for the Banbridge side that look to have secured enough points for both of Ireland Clubs representatives, Lisnagarvey and Banbridge, to play in the top level Euro Hockey League next season. The Banbridge side picked up the silver medals along with individual awards for Gareth Lennox as goalkeeper of the tournament, Stephen Dowds as the tournaments leading goal-scorer and for Eugene Magee as the player of the tournament.

Squad: Lennox, Logan, Peter Brown, Bell, McCandless, Dowds, Wright, Eugene Magee, Phillip Brown, Campbell, Mills, Beattie, Carlisle, McShane, Malcolmson, Owen Magee, Bingham