Ballymena Hockey Club men’s First Xi’s hopes of a first trophy were halted by a 4-0 defeat by Cliftonville on New Year’s Day.
Belfast Harlequins hosted the Sussex Regiment Cup final in the first appearance by either team in the Senior 2 Cup final.
Ballymena elected to sit behind the ball in the first 15 minutes attempting to nullify Cliftonville’s attacks by getting men in defensive positions and hitting them on the break.
Birrell was called into action on the 20 minute mark to make a brilliant double save to keep the game level.
Penalty corners for Ballymena followed, including one strike disallowed as well, but just as Ballymena felt their luck was in, an extremely fast break from Cliftonville brought a top drawer reflex save from Birrell at the other end.
Cliftonville edged on top again forcing a penalty corner that this time took the lead on the 28 minute mark and 4 minutes later a second from open play squeezed past Birrrell at the far post after several missed tackles from the Ballymena defence.
Good Ballymena pressure was not converted and on 10 minutes Cliftonville had their third from a long corner converted at the back post. It was Cliftonville who again capitalised from a strong run into the circle for the final touch to come on the line to make it 4-0.
Ballymena: J Birrell (GK), C Hogg (C), C Fulton, A Crooks, D McDonald, A Linford, T Lowry, A Bell, D Bradley, M O’Neill, A McKeown, A Lorimer, C Davis, E Archer.
North Down 2, Ballymena 2: From the start, second-placed Down were the better side, playing the ball quickly and breaking through the Ballymena defence, resulting in an early goal from an unmarked player.
And a slightly shell-shocked Ballymena soon went 2-0 down when a North down player broke down the left and with great skill was able to play her way into circle to slot the ball past Logan who was unlucky not to deflect the ball wide.
Ballymena finally made the breakthrough in the second half with Kirsten Young who picked up a pass from Gillespie and ran into circle to shoot only to be denied by keeper, but quickly seized on the rebound to make it 2-1.
This was the lift Ballymena needed and minutes later were awarded a penalty corner. Reynolds initial shot from the top of the circle was blocked by a defender, but Reynolds again moved forward onto the loose ball and coolly lifted the ball through the keeper’s legs into the corner to equalise at 2-2.
Ballymena: J Logan (GK), N Greer, S Morrison, C McCracken, V Hogg, H Taggart, R Reynolds, C Gillespie (C), S Storey, K Young, E King.
Ballymena II 1, Belfast Harlequins III 2: Ballymena could have been in front early on before a momentary lapse saw Quins take a surprise lead from an unmarked player in the circle.
A long corner that brought the reward and equaliser from Amy Logan to make it 1-1 at the break.
In the second half Quins forced Ballymena to turn over the ball, which eventually led to a second goal, deflected in off the keeper’s pad to condemn Ballymena to only their second defeat of the season.
Seconds: L Hanna(GK), A Harbinson H Dickey, K Kealey, L McClintock(C), N McMullan, E Clarke, L Logan, A Logan, K Aiken, R Murphy, L Murphy, K McMaster
North Down III 1, Ballymena III 1: North Down went ahead with a well taken strike but the response was swift with a tactical re-shuffle that saw Jessica Kennedy level the score with a fine goal.
Thirds: N Sloane, G Weir, E Anderson, K Johnston, R McCloy, L Harkin, E Johnston, J Lowry (C), J Kennedy, L Kennedy, R Johnston