Shetland ladies hockey team has reached the final of the Scottish district cup after eight years of trying.
After making five consecutive semi-finals Shetland can look forward to playing county rivals Orkney in the final at the national hockey centre at the end of April.
Madras FP proved a resilient and determined opposition in Saturday’s semi-final clash. But Shetland controlled the game and scored their goals at critical moments.
After a pensive opening period where both teams tried to get the measure of each other Shetland won a short corner which presented Stacey Laurenson with a striking opportunity which narrowly missed.
Shetland’s defence coped well with any Madras attacks and Rhiannon Inkster was able to win possession and start the attacks with full backs Vicky Anderson and Janetta Williamson always working hard and providing options to develop play forward.
Nicola Balfour and Aimee Keith were dominating the midfield, despite some strong play from the experienced opposition centres, and were constantly prompting attacks on the Madras defence. They displayed some excellent stick work to assist the forward line and press the Madras team into their own half.
Typical aggressive play from Maggie Kay Irvine complemented the centres and ensured the Madras midfield could find no way through to their forwards. On the other flank Emma Inkster was working tirelessly to push Madras deep into defensive positions.
The opening goal came from a well-worked short corner where a Kristan Robertson shot was stopped from entering the goal by the body of a Madras defender. Nicola Balfour stepped up to coolly dispatch the resulting penalty flick low to the goalkeeper’s right-hand side.
Madras responded well and started to come more into the match which now became more physical. However, the Shetland girls dealt with this and Jillian Copland’s introduction into midfield steadied the ship and allowed Shetland to maintain control.
Half-time came and Shetland were confident of seeing out the game but were still wary of their experienced opponents.
The introduction of Abbey Irvine shortly after the restart helped Shetland to open up the game and become more offensive. Irvine’s skill and pace down the right-hand side created problems for the Madras defence and she was a constant option at a stage in the match when legs were starting to tire.
This was an excellent performance by an up and coming young player.
In very warm conditions fitness became a major factor and Shetland found a second wind, due in no small part to the endless hours of training the girls have put in over the winter.
Shetland got their second goal when Rhea Nicolson, on for Stacey Laurenson, was in the right place at the right time to slot home after a powerful run from Kristan Robertson.
Shortly afterwards Emma Inkster scored the goal of the match from a well-rehearsed penalty corner with a powerful drive after a decoy first strike.
Cara Leask and Laura Nicolson also came on and provided added tenacity in the closing period of the match.
After Shetland’s third goal Madras upped their game and had a period of sustained pressure with several penalty corners. However, Shetland defended strongly and never looked under threat.
Megan Hibbert remained in command as she had throughout the game anchoring the defence and clearing all danger. Alongside Hibbert, Rhiannon Inkster gave an assured and confident display of top level defending throughout the game.
Player of the match for Shetland was Emma Inkster with a super goal and relentless wing play which always had the Madras defence on the back foot and created openings and space for her teammates to exploit.
It was a great team effort, with all the players working well together and everyone in the squad making a contribution to the win.
A testament to the possession Shetland enjoyed was the fact that goalkeeper Megan Nicholson had little to do. Fortunately, she was on hand to scoop a deflected shot past the post and prevent Madras registering on the scoresheet.
No doubt she will be much busier in the final.
Coach Brenda Leask complimented her players and said: “It was a great team effort with all the lasses buying into a new formation and giving maximum effort in muggy and warm conditions after practising in the wind and snow all winter.
“We used all 16 squad players and everyone made a contribution to this victory. We know we will have to continue to improve to have a chance of beating Orkney but that’s our objective. We welcome all supporters who would like to travel down to the final and cheer us on.”
• The Shetland hockey team is keen to hear from any organisations or businesses which would consider supporting them in any way. Contact treasurer Maggie Kay Irvine at Irvine9lb@btinternet.com.