North Down ladies returned to action on Saturday keen to build on their shock defeat of Queens a fortnight ago. The Comber girls made the trip to the Royal School to take on fellow promoted side Dungannon. Having already beaten Dungannon in a close game earlier in the season in the Ulster Shield and knowing that games against side around them are must win it was always going to be a tough challenge for North Down. The absence of Coach Geoff Colligan also created a little added pressure however it gave assistant Jamie Shilliday an opportunity to take the reins.
The game started at a frantic pace but neither side was able to get a foothold on proceedings as both had half chances but neither keeper was really threatened. Half way through the first half North Down took the lead. Lauren Brown took a free on the left hand side and worked her way along the back line before cutting the ball back to Laura Clarke, her effort hit the post but Brown was alert to the chance and poked home the rebound. North Down could have increased their lead but failed to make use of the short corners they had won. Dungannon then began to put a lot of pressure on the visitors and Trish Neill in goal had to clear her lines on several occasions. During one of their own attacks North Down lost the ball and were hit by a quick counter. With Neill unsighted by a combination of her own defender and a Dungannon attacker a shot from mid circle found its way into the bottom right hand corner. With half time approaching North Down won a short corner however when a variation didn’t work the defender on the post was able to clear the ball all the way to an attacker on the half way line and Dungannon were able to make use of the 6 against v 4 situation as they found their centre forward in the circle who deflected the ball high into the net putting the home side in front. Half time 2-1.
After some stern words and an opportunity to regroup North Down came out flying in the second half. Almost from the re start Katharine Hill pulled North Down level as she skipped past two defenders before slamming the ball into the bottom right hand corner. With the momentum now with the visitors they pushed hard and took the lead again 5 minutes later when good work by forwards Olivia Brown, Emma Hill and sister Katharine saw North Down awarded a short corner which Katharine coolly dispatched into the left hand corner 2-3 now to the visitors. The game swung from end to end but after having held on to their slender lead for most of the half North Down finally let it slip with just 5 minutes remaining. Dungannon were awarded a short corner and although the initial clearance was made the secondary shot saw a North Down defender deflect the ball past Neill in the North Down goal. North Down knew that 3 points was an absolute must and pushed hard to get back in front. With 2 remaining minutes having already been signalled by the umpires Laura Clarke took the ball off her opposite number inside her own half and quickly got the ball forward to Katharine Hill. Still some 40 yards from goal Hill drove towards the Dungannon circle ghosting past three players however as she drifted further left and the angle became more difficult she struck the ball perfectly on her reverse into the far corner to complete back to back hat tricks and to a mixture of joy and relief for the Comber girls. Despite the lack of time left on the clock Dungannon still found time to win a short corner and when the ball hit second runner Clarke on the foot at the penalty spot Dungannon’s hopeful claims of a penalty stroke were turned down and another corner awarded. However they could not make use of it as they shot wide from a variation and North Down held on to win 4-3 and pick up another 3 important points.
Report by Laura Clarke