Raphoe men battled to an opening Kirk Cup victory over the Comber men on Saturday in the Kirk Cup – showing some resolute defending along with repelling eight penalty corners in total.
Raphoe 2 North Down 0
Raphoe finished in 15th place last season meaning realistic focus for the cup competition were centred on creating momentum for the upcoming Ulster Premier League campaign. The pool favourites are Irish Hockey League – EYHL – side Annadale.
North Down would have started Saturday’s match as slight favourites given that they finished four places higher than Raphoe’s 10th last season, scoring the third highest amount of goals along the way. However they couldn’t find the net past Raphoe goalkeeper Davy Moore in a defensive display at the Royal and Prior.
Raphoe welcomed back three returning players to the squad, Lee Stewart and Gavin Lecky in midfield along with George Patterson in the forward line.
The opening ten minutes of the contest where a nervy affair. Both teams being sloppy in possession with a high number of turnovers in defence and deep midfield. The Donegal men were fortunate not to go a goal behind after a turnover from left midfield led to an attacking overload on the right side of Raphoe’s defensive circle, however Phillip Wilson’s shot went wide.
On 11 minutes Raphoe found the breakthrough with Tommy Orr winning a penalty corner after a quick counter attack.
Raphoe felt that the foul was deserving of a penalty stroke and a personal penalty, neither of which were given.
However, Tom Eaton converted the set piece anyway through a straight strike that diverted into the goal off a defensive stick.
Davy Moore in the Raphoe net thwarted two North Down penalty corners before Raphoe got there second chance from a set piece. Lecky won the ball on the defensive side of the half way line with a shave tackle before breaking forward on the counter attack and releasing Adrian Crumley on Raphoe’s right wing.
Crumley advanced to the North Down baseline, his pass fortuitously came back onto Lecky’s stick who then found a foot inside the ‘D’ when the North Down defence had recovered.
From the set piece, a variation was not executed correctly resulting in a tame effort which was easily saved.
In the second quarter North Down grew more into the game and found joy down Raphoe’s left with an advancing right-back. A contentious foul made by Lecky outside the ‘D’ on the advancing North Down defender led to a penalty corner and a green card, a personal two minute suspension.
From the resulting corner Keith Meehan saved a drag flick on the Raphoe goal line in what proved to be the only time home ‘keeper Moore was beaten.
The sin bin proved to be one of the last things Lecky contributed in the game as a raised ball caused the midfielder to sit out the rest of the game with a dead leg leaving the Donegal men with only a single rolling substitute for the rest of the match.
Raphoe saw out the rest of the second quarter despite conceding another penalty corner and having Tom Eaton receive a two minute personal penalty for breaking down play.
In the third quarter another personal penalty was received by Raphoe with the umpire brandishing a yellow card for Jonny Long for breaking down play, resulting in a five minute suspension. A further yellow was shown to Zack West in the fourth quarter for the same offense. In total Raphoe played with a man down for 16 minutes in the game.
Amongst the chaos of the third and fourth quarters Ian McGonigle and particularly Lee Stewart were the most calming presence in the Raphoe side. Both looked to keep the passes ticking over and the hosts in possession.
As a group Raphoe were rushed in there clearances and gave easy turnover to the visitors whose pressure was growing throughout quarters three and four.
On 59 minutes another hurried Raphoe clearance caused a miss-trap in midfield from North Down which allowed Tommy Orr to sprint onto the loose ball in the opponents half.
Orr made ground quickly into the North Down ‘D’, where he ignored pleads for him to shoot to find Jonny Long, via a ricochet, who returned the pass cleverly for Orr to finish into the empty net.
A further glorious chance on 63 minutes was missed to extend the lead after Stewart, who received the ‘Man of the Match’ award, stole possession on the half way line, released Orr on the left wing who carried forward and crashed a low drive straight onto Stewart’s stick but his deflection went wide when it looked certain for him to mark his return with a rare goal.
The Raphoe men closed out the remaining minutes to keep their clean sheet and start the season with confidence boosting victory.
Raphoe: Davy Moore (GK), Zack West, Tom Eaton, Evan Lyttle (C), Alan Meehan, Gavin Lecky, Lee Stewart, Keith Meehan, Ian McGonigle, Jonny Long, George Patterson, Adrian Crumley, Tommy Orr.