Three of Leinster’s four sides qualified for the women’s IHL semi-finals but, for the one that missed out, Loreto will have a familiar sinking feeling despite posting a fine win over Hermes.
That they could not grab a two-goal difference owed a lot to Lisa Jacob’s heroics as she charged down a penalty corner late on to leave Hermes at the head of three sides tied on 12 points courtesy of goal difference.
With the rest of the semi-final berths all but sewn up, all eyes were on Belfield for the tie – a repeat of last year’s pool decider – and they served up an end-to-end classic.
It opened at break-neck speed with Cathy McKean and Nikki Keegan leading the line and they took the initiative in the 19th minute when Sarah Barnwell slid in at the far post for 1-0. Hermes responded in kind, Anna O’Flanagan and Jacob both denied by good Mary Harkins saves.
But Loreto ended the half on course to overhaul the Booterstown club as Nikki Symmons’ drag-flick from her side’s third corner taking a nick off a defender en route to the goal.
The two-goal margin, though, was held only briefly as a virtuoso Aine Connery goal cut the lead in half when she jinked her way past a coupleof defenders and smashed home three minutes before the break.
A scoreless third quarter preceded a frantic final phase in which O’Flanagan’s rasper made it 2-2. It put Hermes in a more comfortable position but Loreto got one of the goals they needed from another Symmons corner drag.
And they had the chance to snatch a fourth goal – denying Hermes a losing bonus point in the process – from a corner but Jacob blocked it earning a third successive semi-final IHL berth.
At the Mardyke, Catholic Institute’s late salvo was not enough to earn them a maiden semi-final place as they fell short by four goals on goal difference.
Their Munster rivals, UCC, kept them scoreless until the third quarter before Kym Daly scored from a penalty corner, closely followed by Eimear Cregan’s set-piece effort.
Daly confirmed the bonus point in the final minutes, again at corner-time, but it was not enough to shock the two Dublin teams with their late surge for the semis.
Pegasus continued their imperious form in the competition, sweeping aside Belfast Harlequins 4-0 with former internationals Kirsty McCollum, Arlene Boyles and Suzanne Beaney joined on the score-sheet by Vanessa Surgeoner.
In Pool B, the last remaining semi-final berth up for grabs was confirmed in emphatic fashion by Railway Union. It took just four minutes to gain the upper hand against Ards as Nikki Evans picked up Alex Speers’ pass to dummy Naomi McKnight and push into the goal.
New Irish captain Speers got the second before the break after left-back Orla Fox stole a few yards and took in Emer Lucey’s pass before releasing Speers who played a one-two with Evans and promptly finished.
And Railway moved into bonus point territory – one which would ultimately hand them top spot in the group – in the 32nd minute when Kate Dillon shot high with a flick from a corner for 3-0.
Emma Smyth completed the rout in the fourth quarter when she passed to Jean McDonnell who threaded a pass back to the initiator who put it in off an Ards’ defender.
UCD relinquished top spot in the group, meanwhile, when they tied with Armagh 1-1 in the Orchard county, Chloe Watkins getting the students back on terms after Christine Russell scored the only goal of the first half.
The students had their chances to win the tie late on but found stand-in goalkeeper Zoe Troughton in top form, denying a number of chances in the fourth quarter which would have earned them an alternate semi-final. As it is, they will play Pegasus in the semis in May while Railway face Hermes in a repeat of last year’s critical semi-final.
In this group’s dead-rubber, Cliodhna Sargent’s single goal was enough for Cork Harlequins to grab their first win of the season, beating Ballymoney.
In the Irish Junior Cup, UCD and Trinity’s lengthy runs came to an end as sides from the upper-most eligible division’s quality came to bear.
Railway Union beat the Belfielders 5-2, yielding their goals from four of the players who stepped into the breach in last Thursday’s Jacqui Potter Cup win for the first team – Karen Clarke, Kate Lloyd, Sinead Dooley and Orla Macken – with Caitlin Friel grabbing the other.
Division four’s Trinity also came unstuck in a very tight battle with Lisnagarvey, missing out 2-1 despite Olwen Smith’s goal.
Women’s Irish Hockey League, Pool A results: UCC 0 Catholic Institute 3 (K Daly 2, E Cregan); Hermes 2 (A O’Flanagan, A Connery) Loreto 3 (N Symmons, S Barnwell); Pegasus 4 (A Boyles, V Surgeoner, K McCollum, S Beaney) Belfast Harlequins 0
Standings: 1. Pegasus 18pts (+15) 2. Hermes 12pts (+7) 3. Loreto 12pts (+3) 4. Catholic Institute 12pts (+3) 5. UCC 2pts (-11) 6. Belfast Harlequins 1pt (-16)
Pool B: Armagh 1 (C Russell) UCD 1 (C Watkins); Cork Harlequins 1 (C Sargent) Ballymoney 0; Railway Union 4 (N Evans, A Speers, K Dillon, E Smyth) Ards 0
Standings: 1. Railway Union 15pts (+11) 2. UCD 15pts (+7) 3. Armagh 10pts (+1) 4. Ballymoney 9pts (-1) 5. Ards 5pts (-8) 6. Cork Harlequins 5pts (-10)
Women’s Irish Junior Cup, semi-finals: UCD 2 (Aimee Jones-O’Connor 2) Railway Union 5 (Kate Lloyd, Karen Clarke, Caitlin Friel, Sinead Dooley, Orla Macken); Trinity 1 (Olwen Smith) Lisnagarvey 2 (Laura Wilson, Nicola Tedford)