Hero Stirling’s stick-up job

LISNAGARVEY hero Philip Stirling is obviously not one for sentiment. After all he scored a hat-trick of goals with a borrowed stick in the final of the Irish Senior Hockey Cup at Belfield on Saturday.

The 22 years old international broke his favourite stick in the warm-up before the game to leave him with a crisis."I've been knocking chips off my stick all season but I expected it would last" he said, "I'd been nursing it all week and then in the warm-up it broke.

"I pulled a new stick out of the bag which had not been used before and it felt a bit lead weight. I couldn't stop a thing with it the whole game, it was a disaster."

The disaster was, however, all Harlequins. They could not prevent Stirling from scoring two goals with clinical strikes from penalty corners and a third with an imaginative piece of improvisation to give Lisnagarvey their first cup since 1997. The short corner count told a story. Lisnagarvey won three and scored twice, Harlequins won eight and turned only one to account. But that statistic was not the whole story.

Harlequins played some captivating hockey in a splendid contest and created more scoring chances. Their scoring attempts were not so much wasted, rather they were countered by disciplined defence.

Seven years is a long time for Lisnagarvey to be without a cup triumph they hold the record with 23 successes but history and tradition left them a legacy that was reflected in the confidence and patience that buttressed their game plan.This was especially evident in the opening sequence when Harlequins hammered repeatedly at the 'Garvey defence without return. They were close more than once David Eakins had a shot turned outside by the goalkeeper's foot, Paul Fleming took a shot from David Lombard off the goal-line.

Yet Lisnagarvey absorbed the pressure and, ominously for Harlequins, went in front, through Stirling, from their first short corner after 18 minutes. The apparent ease with which they punctured the Harlequins' defence was obviously a huge psychological boost to their sense of well-being and must have established a sense of destiny.

That impression was reinforced when Harlequins surrendered the lead a second time within two minutes of claiming a dramatic equaliser. Richard Gash converted a short corner five minutes into the second half but they had lost the stimulus it gave them before they could build on it.

Lisnagarvey could claim it was lost to a special goal from the ultra-sharp Stirling who provided the individual high-point of a technically good and intensive contest in the process. Stirling's first shot was blocked but he spun like a top and drove the ball in, reverse-stick.

"The goals were good" said Stirling, "but I thought Julian Stevenson and Mark Raphael were particularly good in the game and the defence was solid. Neil Brazil kept out all the corners."

"I don't feel too good just now" said Harlequins' coach Stephen Jackson in the immediate aftermath, "I thought we played some very good hockey and we had the chances. A lot of young players grew up there today and the experience will stand to them."

An injury to goalkeeper Wesley Bateman in training on the eve of the game was not calculated to boost Harlequins. He pulled a muscle in his thigh and refused to take refuge behind this "I blame myself for the goals from the corners" he said, "I should not have been beaten."

The truth is, Bateman made some brilliant saves. There was no panacea for the pain of defeat, however, and that was virtually certain once Stirling rattled in his third from a corner in the 54th minute.

Substitute Philip McLaughlin lifted Harlequins again when he came in to shoot their second with eleven minutes to go and it seemed they might save it. But when they failed to get in a shot from their seventh corner and drove the last one wide, it was clear that anxiety was their undoing.

That first cup win is always the toughest.

SQUADS - LISNAGARVEY: N. Brazil, B. Waring, M. Robinson, P. Fleming, L. Tumilty, J. Gray, G. Bittle, M. Tumilty, K. Lunn, E. Lutton, M. Raphael, T. Cockram, J. Stevenson, P. Stirling, M. Lappin, K. Lunn.

HARLEQUINS: W. Bateman, M. Pedersen, J. Hobbs, P. Chambers, S. Nicholson, D. Eakins, J. Aherne, J. Black, R. Gash, B. Hayes Curtin, P. Lombard, E. Gash, D. Lombard, P. McLaughlin, C. Brady, C. Daunt.

Umpires: Messrs W. McCully & R. O'Connor.

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