IF Raphoe Hockey Club do manage to win the Ulster Senior League Section One when the days are longer and the weather warmer than it is now, it’s wins like Saturday’s over North Down that will be talked about.
North Down 2
A January chill lingered around the Royal and Prior but after a start that is probably best defined as uncomfortable the side coached by David Buchanan showed their championship credentials.
Going into the match, North Down, the only visiting side to win in Donegal this term when they left on the opening day of the season with a 2-1 win in the Linden Cup, knew something similar would see them top the table. However, those notions soon disappeared and Raphoe’s support had five reasons to be cheerful.
Lee Coll scored a first half brace to set the wheels of victory in motion before Matthew Leckey made it 3-0 at half-time.
North Down, as might’ve been expected, came out all guns blazing as the second period took shape and Ross Linter pulled one back. However, William Kilpatrick re-established the hosts’ three-goal advantage.
And although Richard Willis was on target for a second goal for the visitors, Alan Meehan’s penalty stroke confirmed the victory.
But one-way traffic it was not. In the opening exchanges there was a crispness and purpose about North Down. On three occasions Johnny Rankin in the Raphoe goal had to be alert to save, denying Willis, David Sheppard and Steve McGimpsey.
Seven days beforehand Raphoe had, somewhat nervously, overcome a Queen’s University side without a win all season by the odd goal in five. Now, they appeared to be struggling to get into the game against much more accomplished opposition.
Nineteen minutes in, though, Raphoe made the breakthrough. After Ian McGonigle and Matthew Lecky had seen efforts saved by Gareth McBride in the North Down goal, Coll tucked in a deflected shot from Keith Meehan as it dropped from the air following George Patterson’s incisive run down the right.
Four minutes later, right after Keith Meehan had tested McBride, Coll was on the mark again when he came in at the back post to slot home the rebound.
Raphoe were in the perfect position and as the half drew to a close were determined not to relinquish their authoritative position.
But their sole aspiration wasn’t on protecting what they had, as Matthew Lecky scored a precise third.
After Andrew McKibbon was yellow carded and sin-binned after he clattered Patterson, from the penalty corner, which saw William Kilpatrick and Patterson lay the foundations, Lecky pierced his shot into the top corner for a 3-0 interval lead.
North Down had little need for over-analytical tactical breakdown at half-time. They just had to go for broke. Three minutes into the second half they got back into the game when Linster tapped home following an assist from McGimpsey.
When a team either trails or leads by two goals, the next score is often said to be of huge significance.
Raphoe, after having to defend as North Down had their patches, managed to get three in front again on 47 minutes when Kilpatrick was alive to a rebound after Matthew Lecky’s shot was blocked.
North Down refused to lie down. On 55 minutes they scored again to pull themselves back to 4-2 down when Willis was in the right place after Rankin had got in the way of McGimpsey’s strike.
Again, there was a slightly nervous feel to things but Raphoe were intelligent in possession.
They sealed their win, a huge one when the season as a whole is considered, when Meehan, whose brother Keith was sin-binned for the last few seconds, scored a penalty after Johnny Long was taken down by Andrew McKibbon.
“We wouldn’t have expected anything less from North Down,” a content coach Buchanan said afterwards. “They were in the top flight, the Premier Division, last year and were narrowly relegated. We always expected them to come biting back at us. Particularly when a team is three-nil down, they can almost go hell for leather and just get at the opposition.
“We talked at half-time about keeping it tight, but unfortunately they did get through. We felt that the pressure would come on us, but thankfully we were able to keep going.
“This is a huge result for us. A win for them would have brought them to within a point of us, but now we’re seven points clear. It is another one of those difficult games that we’re able to tick off the list now and move on to next week.”
Raphoe: Johnny Rankin, Rodney Bates, Evan Lyttle, Alan Meehan, William Kilpatrick, Matthew Lecky, Ian McGonigle, Keith Meehan, George Patterson, Gavin Lecky, Johnny Long, Lee Coll, David Buchanan (coach), Richard Tinney (manager).
North Down: Gareth McBride, Michael Black, Keith Conway, Pete McKibbin, Andrew McKibbin, Richard Willis, Richard Cooper, Steve McGimpsey, Ross Linter, Gareth Bailie, Rowan Poots, David Sheppard, Tom Donnan, Phil Wilson.