Carrick Ladies’ Hockey Club 1st XI successfully avoided the potential banana-skin of underestimating their pace-setting Junior League opponents on Saturday when they ultimately proved too strong for visitors Ballymena II in the first round of the Qualifying Plate competition.
With Ballymena currently topping the Ulster Hockey Union’s Junior Two league table, they would have understandably arrived in Carrick in a confident mood whereas Carrick have been going through a somewhat mixed season and needed to approach this knockout tie with some degree of caution.
Right from the opening whistle, however, Carrick had clearly decided to give the visitors no time to settle as they effectively laid siege to their opponents’ goalmouth.
Ballymena held on grimly and, with numerous goalscoring chances having gone begging in the first 10 minutes, it was evident that Carrick needed to put the ball in the net to prevent the visitors from finding their feet.
And, right on cue, the home side’s first goal came on 15 minutes when midfielder Kerry McIlroy managed to fire home from an acute angle.
And, only two minutes later, Carrick went two up when a neat feed from Natalie Hall was netted by Amy Cross.
Then, for the second weekend in succession, Carrick were dismayed to lose another key player to a nasty head injury when influential midfielder Lyndsey McClurg was struck heavily on the side of the head with the ball requiring a journey to hospital with a badly cut ear.
With the visitors appearing equally shocked by the incident, Carrick were quickest to recover their composure and only minutes after McClurg’s departure, Kelly Waide made it 3-0 after some excellent work on the wing by Natasha McWilliams.
The second half proved to be a more equally-matched affair and Carrick goalkeeper Karen Nelson had to come to her team’s rescue on more than one occasion to prevent the visitors getting any kind of foothold.
Carrick defended solidly right across the pitch and, as the Ballymena fight back began to fade, Julie Oliver made the final score 4-0 to Carrick when she hammered home an unstoppable penalty corner drive.
Carrick’s Player of the Match v Ballymena II: Katie Houston.