Shetland 1, Orkney 2
Shetland’s intended new hockey era began in a narrow defeat against Orkney. It was a morale-boosting performance for senior coach Kerri Redfern, but bitter disappointment was how the Shetland captain Jill Hibbert described the defeat at the hands of old rivals Orkney.
Two goals from the hugely talented Orcadian Hannah Johnston clocked up another victory for Orkney. Despite the result, this was to be one of the most exciting and nail biting finishes to this historic fixture in many years.
The teams were introduced to the crowd at the Midway Pitch in Brae in splendid sunshine and a light breeze, perfect conditions for a high tempo game.
The crowd was confident that this new fresh-faced Shetland side were at the top of their game and that a swing to Shetland’s advantage may be on the cards.
Orkney had had the upper hand in the last five meetings. Shetland has not won this trophy since 2003.
Orkney opened the game with a strong start and immediately put pressure on Shetland’s defence. The young Ava Sim looked confident after her recent big success as victorious captain over Orkney in the junior inter-county and was clearly in control at the back alongside captain Jill Hibbert who worked her defensive role impeccably from her deep position.
The Shetland defence thwarted all the Orkney attacks, which came mainly from Orkney’s Claire Irvine. Shetland soon took command of the play in the first half as vice captain Brenda Leask began to exploit the Orkney defence, continually looking to open up gaps.
Her contribution to the game was enormous and her leadership from the middle of the park was extremely effective. Shetland’s pressure paid off with the first penalty corner of the game going their way. A great opportunity was triumphantly saved by Orkney’s keeper Lynne Cursiter, whose passion for this fixture has been evident for many years now.
Lynne was to be tested on several more occasions in the first half by Shetland’s strong new Burra trio formation of Josie Jamieson, Kristan Robertson and the experienced Stacy Laurenson. Their strength and depth pushed Orkney all the way and gave the visitors’ Lisa Groundwater a torrid 15 minutes in the first half. The first half ended as fast as it started but both teams were unable to break through to score.
The second half was to prove crucial. Shetland’s coach decided to replace some of the players from the first half. With good contributions from Michelle Stark, Karen MacKelvie and Fiona Shearer, they changed the run of play when they came on.
While the tide kept changing from one end to the other, Shetland began stringing together some beautiful passes and from deep on the left Gayle Johnson was able to make a great ball to Josie Jamieson who unselfishly lifted her stick and made a perfect dummy so that the ball landed neatly on the end of Stacey Laurenson’s stick. She unleashed a monster shot into the circle where Kristen Jeromson used all her skill and caution to outwit the Orkney keeper and pushed the ball into the back of the net, giving Shetland the lead. This style of play was far more expansive than we had seen in many years and the new game plan seemed to be paying off.
With 60 minutes played the Shetland captain summoned for calm and concentration for the last quarter of the game. It was then that Shetland’s young keeper Toni Sidgwick came to the fore as Orkney began to up the ante. Shetland’s defence were put under huge pressure trying to hold on to their lead.
With Hannah Johnston of Orkney looking more and more determined, Shetland’s defence were continually penalised, giving away too many short corners to survive.
After four penalty corners Orkney changed direction and employed new tactics. From one of their familiar moves Lisa Groundwater pushed the ball on to the waiting predator Hannah Johnston, and with skill and precision she found a hole in the defence and scored a deserved equaliser.
Demoralised and shattered, Brenda Leask raised the bar once again as she continually challenged for every ball. Maggie Irvine came back on in the second half to try to lift the mood and inspire a challenge for victory instead of settling for a draw, but the despondency had already set in and in a moment of sheer frustration and lack of concentration another penalty was awarded to Orkney with only minutes remaining in the game.
The fresh legs of young Rhiannon Inkster looked like she had saved the day with some of her sweeping clearances, but sadly Shetland were unable to eliminate the danger still posed by Orkney as yet another of Lisa Groundwater’s perfect deliveries to Hannah Johnston resulted in a spectacular goal for Orkney.
An exasperated Shetland defence were unable to hold on to the form that had been displayed throughout the game.
To Shetland’s credit they took the initiatives early on in the game and gave the crowd great hope. The pang of regret will be felt most by captain Hibbert who was rewarded at the closing ceremony for her contribution to the inter-county meetings.
This, in what is rumoured to be her last cap for Shetland (total 30), was a very sad exit but a great encouragement for Shetland as the gap with Orkney gets smaller.
There were great performances by Brenda Leask, who picked up the best player award at the end of the game, and Josie Jamieson, who was reminiscent of Usain Bolt at times. Shetland can be pleased with delightful stick work from Kristan Robertson and young Kristen Jeromson while Ava Sim is growing in stature in every game. Zoe Irvine looked diminished by injury and perhaps not 100 per cent fit, but made a remarkable effort in midfield combined with the reliable forces of the more experienced Maree Simpson and Fiona Shearer, who did as they were asked and gave 100 per cent commitment.
The prospects look more promising for the future of this event for the next game in Orkney. Shetland looked considerably faster and fitter than in previous meetings. The mixture of new younger players proved a good gamble but the day belonged to Orkney and Hannah Johnston who, with her great reputation, continues to torment the Shetland defence.