LISNAGARVEY broke through another hockey barrier on Sunday at East Grinstead when they became the first Ulster club to reach the second stage of the European Hockey League.
Having come back from the dead on Saturday against Lille, they faced the task of holding off Dutch aces Bloemandaal who had to score five goals without reply to put Garvey out of contention.
This they did with one of the best defensive displays I have seen for any Garvey side over the years. It took the Dutch until the fourth quarter of the game to score their first goal and then they ran out of time managing just three and when the final whistle blew the large number of travelling supporters got more than value for attending the exciting week end.
Apart from a half chance for Bloemanadaal in the opening two minutes, Garvey were positive in everything they did and James Dowling, after a good run, shot past the post when very well placed.
Teun de Nooijer, the undisputed top player in Europe also had a shot saved by keeper John Tormey in the 15th minute and after a few more defensive scares Garvey had reached the end of the first quarter with a clean sheet.
The 18th minute could have been the telling moment of the day but after a move between Steven Arbuthnot, Richard Arneill and Greg Thompson, the chance was lost and Garvey had to return to their defensive duties.
At this point Brian Waring and Johnny Bell were particularly brilliant at the back clearing up countless Bloemandaal attacks and although the Dutch were constantly a threat, they never opened up the Garvey rear guard which held firm under severe pressure.
With the first half nearly over, Bell made a particularly good tackle when de Noijer looked like opening the scoring but again the defence weathered the storm and the 35 minutes was reached still with no score and the Dutch beginning to become a little frustrated.
Timmy Cockram, though not 100% fit was covering a lot of ground while both Daniel Buser and Peter MacDonnell were having their best games of the season in mid field.
Immediately after the start of the second half, Bloemandaal forced their the first penalty corner of the game but to further frustrate the Dutch John Tormey brought off a magnificent diving stick save as Garvey continued their superbly disciplined defensive campaign.
Bloemandaal forced their second set piece in the 49th minute but Peter MacDonnell took the full force of the shot in his stomach and it was a few minutes before he was able to continue.
Wave after wave of Bloemandaal attacks were repelled as Garvey stood firm and even de Nooijer shot over the bar when he could have done better and the three quarter stage was reached scoreless and hopes were high in the Garvey camp.
The pressure had to tell eventually and in the 58th minute Martens found the Garvey net after a slick move on the left and the seal had been broken but with time rapidly running out.
De Nooijer, on the left created the second goal for Brouwer in the 63rd minute as the gallant Garvey defence began to weaken and a third a minute later from Bovendeert could only put doubts in the minds of the vociferous Garvey support but Waring, Bell and company dug very deep to ensure the fourth goal did not cause panic with the final five minutes still to play.
The Garvey fitness was obvious as they were able to work the ball out of defence on three occasions and even had the temerity to get in a shot through Steven Arbuthnot which screwed just past the left hand post with only seconds left; the momentous match ended with Bloemandaal still needing two goals to stop Garvey progressing to the second stage.
This had been a truly memorable performance from a Garvey team which just failed to succumb to the class of Bloemandaal and fully deserved the result. They can look forward to the second phase in Amsterdam at Easter with the knowledge that the standard is even higher in the round of the last sixteen.
Mention must be made of the Garvey support which numbered around 60 throughout the week end. They were by far the noisiest and passionate and fully deserved the club’s success.
Garvey must turn their attention to their Irish Senior Cup match on Saturday against Pembroke Wanderers at Comber Road. The efforts of last week end will surely have a bearing on the squad they can put on the pitch with both Timmy Cockram and Mark Raphael being unlikely to play .
They can expect no favours from their Dublin opponents who are riding high in the Leinster league and will again have to raise themselves for the occasion. The Irish Cup is still a big attraction for the club and a win in the first round is very important to all at Comber Road. The game starts at 2-30 and should prove a close encounter.