RAPHOE HOCKEY CLUB weren’t at their best on Saturday for the visit of Newry but Gavin Lecky’s winner lit up the vital win in their pursuit of the Ulster Senior League Section One.
Three points are all that are now required from four climatic fixtures for Raphoe to seal a championship that is certainly well deserved of them if the season as a whole is considered.
They were thankful again to a man that has hit form just at the right time in the season.
Lecky last week celebrated his 18th birthday in considerable style with a hat-trick in the 5-2 win at Bangor, a result that left his side three points in front of North Down with two games in hand.
On Saturday closer to home, Raphoe were not as fluent in what was generally considered one of the more lifeless matches at the Royal and Prior Grounds this season.
However, it’s still a commendable trait to manage to win whilst not at your best and that’s perhaps the most appropriate way to summarise the Raphoe performance at the weekend.
Ian McGonigle scored a curious opening goal. By then, the hosts had rarely threatened against the only team to have beaten them in the league all season.
Twenty-four minutes in, though, a short corner routine from William Kilpatrick and George Patterson teed up Lecky to shoot.
Neil McKnight made a vital goalline clearance for Newry but inexplicably tried to run the ball out of the dangerzone. However, still behind goalkeeper, Niall Dismore, McKnight was thwarted as McGonigle tackled with aplomb with a simple tap to opening the scoring.
It was a break that Raphoe were glad to get. Beforehand, they had scant openings barring efforts from both Gavin and William Lecky.
Just before half-time, Raphoe’s collective sigh of relief could be heard when John Taylor, son of former Ireland international Robbie, played a one-two with Colm McKnight and shot just wide of Johnny Rankin’s goal.
Five minutes into the second half, however, Raphoe were undone. Taylor was once more the telling factor in Newry’s attack and he shot into the corner when set-up by Kyle McCombe and Neil McKnight.
Raphoe, at that stage, were in a delicate position but had to be congratulated for the way they pulled the points out of the bag.
Lecky, as well as his treble last week, has started the calendar year in considerable fashion. After scoring the winning goal in the Linden Cup final at Deramore Park on New Year’s Day, he was also part of the Ulster U-21 panel for the recent interprovincials.
On Saturday, he showed just why he’s a name on the lips of many within the province.
Picking up possession not far inside the Newry half following a pass from Kilpatrick, Lecky weaved his way into a scoring position and when the moment was right, he slotted low past Dismore 11 minutes into the second half.
Tentatively, Raphoe pushed for a third that would certainly have killed the match. However, they were cute enough to understand that a one-goal lead is certainly a precarious one.
McGonigle came from deep and shot high, which would’ve stung Dismore who saved with his body.
Then, Matthew Lecky had a couple of chances to add to his portfolio. However, he was out of luck on each occasion. But his influence earlier in the match was to be the one that mattered most.
This win means Raphoe need only three points from their final four fixtures of the season to be crowned champions. The first of these games is this coming Saturday away to bottom of the table Armagh, push back for this game is 1pm.
Raphoe: Johnny Rankin, Rodney Bates, Evan Lyttle, Alan Meehan, Matthew Lecky, William Kilpatrick, Ian McGonigle (Captain), Keith Meehan, George Patterson, Gavin Lecky, Johnny Long, Lee Coll, Richard Tinney, Paul Stewart.
Newry: Niall Dismore, Jermey Greer, Kyle McCombe, Nigel Davenport, Richard Nummy, Colm McKnight, John Taylor, Neil Ligget, Neil McKnight, Ben Scott, Robbie Taylor, David England, Robert Irwin.