Rovers’ run comes three goals short of EYHL title

by Stephen Findlater

THREE Rock Rovers hammered Instonians 9-1 at Grange Road in their final men’s EY Hockey League game of the season but the result proved not quite enough for them to overhaul Banbridge.
It was their 11th successive win and saw the Rathfarnham club end the regular season level with Bann but they missed out on the title by three goals on goal difference.
Indeed, it was a fraught final day of the season with anxious checks of smart phones throughout the game as Rovers sought to overhaul the long-time leaders.
Three Rock were led out for the match by the club’s Rockets, Ireland’s first Parahockey team for people with special needs who will represent the country at August’s European Championships.
From the outset, Rovers needed to outscore Bann by six goals and they got off to the perfect start with Mitch Darling scoring inside two minutes. Kevin Mullins forced home a second in the seventh minute and a Jody Hosking strike followed seconds later – a brilliant reverse stick effort – to build a 3-0 lead with just eight minutes gone.
Luke Madeley’s drag-flick accounted for the fourth goal before Conor Empey slammed in the fifth on the half-hour mark after the ball bounced fortuitously off umpire Robert Johnston. Another Madeley drag made it 6-0 at the break. All the while, goals were raining down at Banbridge, too, extending the Rovers’ required goals which slowed up somewhat in the second half as they built a 3-0 lead against Railway Union
Madeley completed his hat trick before Ross Canning coolly slotted home from close range for 8-0 by the end of the third quarter as Banbridge extended their lead to 5-1.
At this stage, 10 goals was the target but the killer blow to Rovers’ title hopes arrived when William Robinson scored from Inst’s only corner.
Mullins grabbed a second goal with time running out but Rovers ended three goals short of Banbridge, 6-1 winners, who ultimately landed the title and a place in the Euro Hockey League next season.
Rovers will now look to bounce back next Saturday in the Champions Trophy semi-final when they face reigning champions Lisnagarvey, looking to repeat their January 3-1 win in the league.
Win that and they could earn a place in the final and, also, a place in Europe into the bargain.
Earlier in the day at Grange Road, there was heartache for Leinster league winners as they lost to Ulster Premier champions Cookstown as they missed out on a promotion shot due to a 1-0 defeat in their provincial playoff tie.
Captain Mark Crooks scored the all-important goal with 21 minutes remaining for the Co Tyrone side. It was a just reward as they dominated large swathes of the match but could not find a way past Ross Murray who made a glut of brilliant saves.
For the Whitechurch side, they could not get full purchase from their trio of corners while Jack Perdue had a gilt-edged chance to go 1-0 up in the second half as the ball popped up to him a metre from goal but he miscued and his shot somehow spun around the right post.
The Co Tyrone side won the tie when Crooks pounced on a rebound off Murray; they had plenty of chances to double the score before Corinthian made them sweat down the final stretch but to no avail.

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