Features - 18/01/2007
By Peter Thompson
Seconds shatter critics with resounding victory
A stormy Friday night at Paisley Park is an unlikely setting for history to be made, but the 12th of January 2006 will stand out in the careers of many of the Green Machine’s prodigies as the date when their first ever win was acquired. It has been more than two years since the Green Army’s second-string came out on top of a hockey match, and few of those who were present on Friday had smelt success in the past. How fitting it was, then, that our finest performance to date was to be executed against a Harlequins side that had been twelve goals our superior earlier in the season.
The wind was to be relentless throughout the encounter, but it was to be ’Quins who were to have it knocked out of their proverbial sails by the strongest East squad to appear this year. Fresh from a hard-fought draw in Newry, a renewed sense of optimism, coupled with a necessity for points, armed the lads with a fierce hunger; Harlequins, it seems, were expecting the farcical contest we provided in October. This perception was given a firm kick in the teeth when we took the lead within the first quarter.
A cheeky one-two between the renowned partnership of Alan Russell and Kriss Leslie culminated in a sweet pass to Ronnie McDowell, who calmly fed it to speed demon Phil Brown. Phil was in no mood for squandering and the thud of his powerful strike against the Quins’ backboard could likely have been heard in Deramore Park, where our stunned opponents surely wished they were back at.
To be content with just one goal, we realised, would be to live on the edge, and so we immediately sought to double the punishment. Sustained pressure in the opposition zone was rewarded when Mark Bailie, in his typically cool fashion, popped the ball past Harlequins dazzled netminder. We had plenty of options at the time and were well-placed for any possible rebounds, but in the true spirit of a natural striker, Bailie made no mistake in putting the shot where the ‘Quins keeper could only dream of reaching.
More on-field magic ensued, and East’s passing was as fluent as George’s French after a night at the Academy Club. Quins’ sympathetic offensive efforts did little more than stretch the legs of our wall-like defence; indeed any business they undertook within our box was resoundingly kicked into a fairytale by Peter "The Cat" Thompson.
The half-time team talk was little more than a formality- much of our play was free of the mistakes that had cost us in games gone by, although it had to be kept in mind that Harlequins’ pacy forward line could well have been a surprising bunch. Above all, it was absolutely crucial that we retained our game-winning composure and didn’t unwind our efforts by giving less than the 100% that was delivered in the first period. Captain Peter Thompson had no intentions of fixing something that wasn’t broken, and so kept the halfway festivities as brief as possible. Thirty-five minutes separated The Green Machine from immortality.
To the relief of the fans, we launched into the second half with the same eagerness and poise that gifted the corps in the previous thirty-five. Harlequins did finally add something to the game- frustration. Tempers began to be set alight by their own mistakes, while East Antrim played with serene effortlessness. Never before has the squad played "as a team" so well, with passing, communication and supportive play that made it look like we’d trained together for years. Harlequins threatened with a couple of short corners in the last fifteen minutes, but we remained strong defensively and made sure that mounting attacks were quickly broken down and carried up-field safely. So long as we used short-range passing, dynamic off-the-ball movement and didn’t panic, we looked more than comfortable.
Harlequins nailed their own coffins in the last ten minutes with childish behaviour, indeed the antics of their goalkeeper summed up the team’s attitude towards the game and made it all the more rewarding when the final whistle sounded. In war, as they say, there is no substitute for victory.
The work put in by every single player on Friday made us all proud to wear the green shirt. I wrote a week ago that things had clicked within the unit and that I felt this was to be the start of something big for the Seconds- now here we are, with a win under our belts, and improving with every stroke of the stick. Our seamless ability to play with such collective calmness, knowing in the back of our minds that we were about to achieve something big, shows our class and perfect attitude towards the game of hockey.
Anyone who felt that they, in the words of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, "didn’t pack the gear to serve in my beloved corps", conquered their own doubts on Friday. The younger members of the squad are sure to develop into priceless assets for the club in coming months and years, while our older troops will see their experience bearing fruit as the 2nds move from strength to strength within the ranks of Ulster hockey. If we continue to show this type of class, it can only be onwards and upwards.
The future is bright. The future is Green.