High five for Portrush as they reach Challenge Cup semis

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Portrush were back in action last Saturday after four absent weeks due to the recent weather.

They entertained Ballymena in the quarter-final of the Irish Challenge Cup at the Joey Dunlop Leisure centre Ballymoney as the pitch in Ballycastle had been in terrible condition in recent weeks. With the absence of Vice-captain and birthday boy Neil McMaster, Portrush knew it would be a hard task.

However, Portrush started the game with a bang and within two minutes had shell-shocked the visitors as Callum McKeeman’s strike looped over the goalkeeper to make it 1-0. The following 10 minutes were scrappy from Portrush with passes and touches well below what is expected, however the Braidmen could not capitalise and Portrush doubled their lead soon after with what is possibly the team goal of the season as Richard McNabb delivered a snappy past to Callum who exchanged passes with John Dillon who put the ball on a plate for the young rising star, Graeme Christie, who finished the move with an excellent finish.

Portrush were playing the quality of hockey they expect at the start of the second half and they soon put the tie to rest as an excellent ball from Ryan Smith to James McCook split the defence wide open and with only the goalkeeper to beat John Dillon slotted the ball home. The only lapse in concentration all day was punished by Ballymena as they made their way into the circle too easily and a finesse flick from the Ballymena forward made it 3-1.

With five minutes to go Portrush were awarded a short corner from which the young Philip Linton scored his first goal! With only seconds remaining Leon Smith broke free of the Ballymena defence and chipped the ball over the goalkeeper to round off the scoring at 5-1.

With the influential Neil McMaster absent Andy Christie showed he could really step up to the mark! On the right side both Callum McKeeman and Ryan Smith put in so much effort and showed excellent skill up the right side. In defence Richard McNabb played an excellent game of control at the back and communicated really well to the rest of the team.

With both youngsters Graeme Christie and Philip Linton on the score sheet yet again, it puts more pressure on the senior team members to step their game up. This win kept Portrush’s treble ambitions alive, the Senior league 2 trophy looks very possible and now with the semi-final of the Irish Challenge Cup to look forward to everyone hopes it will be a very memorable year for the club.