On this Day in the Irish News: May 19 1997

Noel Sands featured for Down as they missed out on promotion from Division Three
Padraig O Meiscill

NHL Division Three: Down 1-11 Armagh 1-14

DOWN kissed goodbye to their promotion hopes and a play-off when they were beaten by table-toppers Wicklow in this game switched to Ballykinlar at the last moment.

Because of unplayable pitches in Ards they were late arrangements for both teams with the result that several Down players were stranded in Portaferry and unable to make the journey to Ballykinlar.

While the pitch was in perfect condition most of the game was shrouded in heavy fog which made the flight of the ball impossible to watch. Indeed at half time the referee considered abandoning the game, but he decided to let it run and his decision proved correct with the fog lifting slightly in the final 10 minutes.

Down had a brilliant start and led by 1-3 to 0-0 after nine minutes. Barry Coulter opened with a point followed by one from a long-range Tom Coulter free while in six minutes a Tom Coulter ‘65' was flicked on by Noel Sands to Johnny McGrattan who sent to the net.

When Gerard McGrattan added a point Down looked to be in a good position. Wicklow opened their scoring in the 10th minute with a point from full forward Don Hyland and indeed the Wicklow man proved to be a real thorn in the Down defence scoring 1-7 of his side's total.

RONNIE O'Sullivan became Dr Martens European League champion last night as Stephen Hendry failed to gain consolation for his defeat in the World Championship final at the Crucible two weeks ago.

O'Sullivan captured his third title of the season, and collected a first prize of £60,000, thanks to a 10-8 victory over Hendry in a high quality climax to the invitation event in Irthlingborough.

The 21-year-old from Chigwell, who also prevailed at the Asian Classic and German Open, therefore ended the 1996/97 campaign with total tournament earnings of £184,105.

It was another superb performance for ambidextrous O'Sullivan, who played approximately 25 per cent of his shots left handed. In contrast, it was a disappointing conclusion to Hendry's season and his third successive reversal in the final of a major tournament over the past six weeks after also losing to Mark Williams with the British Open trophy on the line.

“It's a great feeling in one way but it's frustrating in another,” said O'Sullivan.

CHELSEA captain Dennis Wise is convinced his club's FA Cup triumph is only the start of a brilliant new Blue Day.

The Stamford Bridge club was once tagged “the Manchester United of the south” by chairman Ken Bates – yet Chelsea never collected the silverware to justify the claim. Now, though, tiny former England midfielder Wise insists his team can carry their Wembley anthem on to even greater glories, after collecting their first major trophy for 26 years in the 2-0 trot against desperate Middlesbrough.

“Long live the nineties,” said Wise.

“I reckon you are going to see the best of us for the rest of the century. It was so important we got over this first hurdle of winning something. It has been a long, long time for the club and the punters. But we are going forward from this. There is much more to come.”

Chelsea last got their hands on a top trophy, after beating Real Madrid in a European Cup-winners Cup final replay in 1971. But Wise was an FA Cup winner with Wimbledon nine years ago when the Dons shocked odds-on favourites Liverpool 1-0. Wise said: “We've been an okay side since I joined Chelsea seven years ago, but we are not just an okay side having a few little runs in the cups any more. People know now we are quality.

“Other people are going to look at us now and be more than a bit frightened. We've proved this season to everybody just what we've got about us and we've proved it to ourselves by winning a big trophy.”


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