Railway advance; Hermes, Loreto and Pembroke all stay in semi-final shake-up

Pool A:
Cork C of I 0 Railway Union 2 (Patricia O’Dwyer, Sinead Walsh)
First half goals from Patricia O’Dwyer and Sinead Walsh helped Railway Union become the first side to advance to the last four of the IHL, getting the better of Cork C of I, to make it through with a game to spare.

O’Dwyer netted inside two minutes and while the Garryduff hosts found some rhythm in the second period, Sinead Walsh finished off a breakaway goal a couple of minutes before the break.
Railway continued to apply the pressure while C of I had their fair share of possession but never carried the same measure of menace up front.

Pembroke 2 (Jill Collins, Sarah Clarke) Ards 1 (own goal)
Pembroke maintained their second place in Pool A after a hard-fought three points against Ards kept them a point clear of Cork Harlequins in the race for the second semi-final spot.

All the goals came in the second quarter as a cagey first period was replaced by a lively second stanza. Ards took the lead when a crash ball took the stick of Clara Chamberlayne for an own goal – one of the new innovations in this year’s competition.

But the lead was short-lived. In the 26th minute, from a quick switch of play, Jill Collins roofed a shot to bring the side back to level pegging.

Pembroke survived a Karen Hales’ two-minute suspension, during which time Ards had a corner strike deemed too high. And on the Cork woman’s return, Chamberlayne earned a corner for the hosts which Sarah Clarke snapped up on the rebound for a 2-1 half-time lead.

A green for Wendy Hobson and a Rachel McKeon yellow in the third quarter were both negotiated by Pembroke while Ards’ skipper Janice Vaughan and Hales – this time on a yellow – both sat out time in the final period but Pembroke stood firm to earn three points and all but end Ards’ maiden IHL campaign.

Ballymoney 1 (Aine Kearney) Cork Harlequins 2 (Rachel McSharry, Cliodhna Sargent)

Cork Harlequins broke their Ballymoney hoodoo to pick up a vital away victory and maintain their hopes of reaching back-to-back IHL semi-finals. They must outdo Pembroke’s performance in the next round of matches to advance to the play-off weekend.

Quins recovered from a 1-0 deficit – courtesy of Aine Kearney’s finish in the 30th minute – with Cliodhna Sargent responding instantly from a corner to tie the game up. And Rachel McSharry (pictured, left) popped up with the winner deep into the second half to keep a Munster interest in the semi-final shake-up very much alive.

Pool B
Saturday: Randalstown 1 (Amy Jones) Hermes 4 (Anna O’Flanagan, Aoife Harte, Gillian Pinder, Deirdre Duke)
Hermes took the overnight lead in the IHL Pool B standings as they took a bonus point win from Randalstown and now need just a draw from their final group game against Loreto to advance to the semi-finals.

A lively but scoreless first half saw Emma Teggerty save from Fiona Connery, Chloe Watkins Deirdre Duke and Gillian Pinder while Aine Connery also had a reverse-stick effort ruled out in the second quarter.

The Booterstown club rode out a two-minute suspension to Duke for dissent only for Aine Connery to supply a superb pass to Chloe Watkins to fire into the top right of the goal for 1-0.

Aoife Harte made it 2-0 in the 40th minute, diverting Christine Quinlan’s shot into the roof of the net once and Hermes were in bonus point territory when Duke slotted in at the back post from Fiona Connery’s assist – a third strike in eight minutes.

Gillian Pinder got the fourth strike, via the stick of Courtney Burns, to secure the extra point. 15 year-old Amy Jones pulled one back eight minutes from time from Emma Parker’s crash ball but it proved solely a consolation

UCC 1 (Ali O’Connor) Loreto 2 (Nicci Daly, own goal)
Loreto escaped from Cork with a fortuitous 2-1 win over UCC, which keeps their hopes of retaining the IHL alive, while all but ending the students’ hopes of advancing to the last four.
College had a rip-roaring start, taking the lead inside 90 seconds from their first short corner as Ali O’Connor’s straight hit found it’s way to the backboard. The hosts forced three more corners in the first five minutes, Audrey O’Flynn seeing a drag flick well saved by Louisa Healy.

But Loreto survived seeing Nikki Keegan yellow carded to steadily get a foothold in the game, with Nikki Symmons, Cathy McKean and Aisling Campion beginning to dominate.

College should nonetheless have doubled their lead on 27 minutes, when Ali O’Regan found Fiona O’Connell all on her own in the circle, but her first time shot was brilliantly turned around the post by Healy.

Loreto made UCC pay for that miss just before half time, when Nicci Daly (pictured, right) turned the ball past Karen Olden off a fine cross from McKean.

Despite sharing 11 corners in the first half, neither side was able to take advantage, a trend which continued after the break as three more went begging for each side. Olivia Roycroft saw yellow for not retreating, but chances were at a premium from open play.

A superlative performance full of running from Miriam Crowley couldn’t help College find a goal, and Loreto then won the game with a sucker punch with four minutes remaining. A speculative ball from the right hit a College stick and diverted past Olden, the new own goal ruling proving the hosts’ undoing.

Sunday: Pegasus 3 (Suzanne Beaney 2, Michelle Harvey) Old Alex 1 (Hazel Agar)

Three first half Pegasus moved the Ulster standard-bearers to the brink of qualification to the IHL playoffs weekend, though Hazel Agar’s second half goal for Old Alex means they missed out on the bonus point which would have sealed their place.

Former international duo Claire McMahon and Suzanne Beaney combined to break the dead-lock in the ninth minute, the latter scoring the first of her double. Pegs continued to press forward while Alex existed on the counter-attack with Roisin Flinn and Emily Beatty the main outlets.

But when Jenny Kyle earned the northern side’s third corner, Michelle Harvey (left) flicked home for a strong lead which Beaney augmented four minutes before the break, rounding off Kyle’s pull-back.

Pegasus notched up a series of corner to no effect in the third quarter to make the bonus point safe and they were stung when another Flinn run fed Agar who fired a sharp shot from the top of the D into the backboard.

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Despite another pair of corners, Pegs could not snatch back a three-goal margin but they need just a losing bonus point against bottom-placed Randalstown, in combination with a Hermes and Loreto draw, to make it through to the final four.

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