Old Alexandra earned a second shot at the ESB Electric Ireland Irish Hockey League as they complete a third successive win in the wildcard playoffs, earning the point they needed to make it five Leinster teams in the 2011/12 edition. Nicola Gray’s single strike did for Ards 1-0 who pushed the Dubliners all the way at Garrduff.
The Milltown outfit had been in ruthless form against UCC and Greenfields, notching 11 goals without reply, but they found Gareth Grundie’s side a much tougher nut to crack.
The Ulster girls realistically needed to get something out of this game to keep their hopes alive, and with goalkeeper Naomi McKnight in inspired form, seemed set to keep the Alex attack at bay.
Alex had already seen a goal chalked off but they eventually broke the deadlock three minutes from time via a Gray short corner strike, ensuring they ended the wildcard tournament with a 10pc record and three clean sheets.
Their reward for this success, though, is an exceptionally tough group in the 2011/12 season as they were matched with dual-national finalists Hermes and Pegasus along with double semi-finalists UCD. Add in Munster’s rising force Catholic Institute and Armagh and it looks the tougher of the two groups.
On the other side, Railway and Loreto on paper look set to fight out the semi-final berths with Ballymoney while, on previous years form, UCC, Lurgan and Cork Harlequins take on the underdog’s tags.
Alex were followed into the qualifier’s enclosure by UCC who saw off Greenfields 4-1 to ensure Munster will have three representatives in the competition for the third season running.
A strengthened UCC welcomed back Munster senior interpro Ali O’Connor and she played a strong part as they had too much for the Connacht champions, going ahead when Olivia Roycroft returned a loosed ball from a corner rebound to where Ali O’Regan was waiting to touch home.
College then saw a goal chalked off, Aine Curran’s looped corner bash ruled out for danger before Emma White needed to get down low to deny Greenfields’ penalty stroke, stopping Neasa McGettigan’s effort.
Having survived that let-off, Kate Murphy then doubled College’s lead at the other end with a switched short corner strike on the cusp of half-time.
And College all but killed the game off within 60 seconds of the restart. Fiona O’Connell, rode three tackles before blasting a rising effort from the narrowest of angles.
Vicky O’Sullivan was also rewarded for a fine tournament when she picked up a corner rebound, pivoted and fired home for 4-0, before Greenfields bagged a superb late consolation – the young side’s only goal of the tournament – when star performer McGettigan surged into the D off a quick free and rattled the ball into the bottom corner.
On the men’s side, Instonians completed the men’s line-up for next season as they ran up a 3-0 success over Bandon who were denied an IHL place for the fourth successive year at the wildcard stage.
The west Cork side made most of the running but lacked a killer instinct and accuracy in their passing, while they were left to rue the concession of a soft first-half goal that allowed Inst to sit back and hit on the break.
In a first half of few chances, the best two fell to Bandon skipper Ali Smith, who used his searing pace to good effect when given the opportunity.
Darren Beamish’s searching long ball found Smith, who exchanged passes with Paul O’Leary but couldn’t beat Nigel Skillen with his angled, flicked effort.
Inst’s attacks mainly came from Chris Kirk’s trickery and crash balls from skipper Paul Gleghorne, with one such effort re-routed to the backboard by John Watson, despite his touch taking much of the pace off the ball.
Bandon – for whom Graham Kingston, Rob Smith and Darren Beamish shone, especially in defensive mode – came straight back down the other end, but were controversially denied a penalty stroke when skipper Ali Smith was stick-tackled by goalkeeper Skillen as he attempted to round him after collecting Andrew Kingston’s pinpoint through ball.
Advantage was played as Smith kept his footing, and with a covering defender on the line and the angle narrowed he squared for a diving David Smith, who failed to connect with the goal at his mercy.
Too many Bandon passes went astray as they lacked the accuracy required to chase the game, and Inst put a gloss on the scoreline with a couple of late corner goals.
The first saw the ball worked back to Mark Irwin in the push-out spot and he scored via the body of defender Chris Wood, before Gleghorne dragged home another in the last 30 seconds.
Inst were subsequently drawn in a pool with Ireland’s EHL representatives Banbridge and Cookstown along with the Leinster (Glennane) and Munster (Cork Harlequins) champions.
Mills Cup winners Monkstown complete the line-up of Pool A while Three Rock, the other successful wildcard side, are in Pool B.
They face Ulster champions Lisnagarvey with YMCA, Pembroke, Annadale and Munster runners-up Cork C of I.
Men’s Irish Hockey League Wildcard playoffs: Bandon 0 Instonians 3 (John Watson, Mark Irwin, Paul Gleghorne)
Standings: 1. Instonians 4pts (+3); 2. Three Rock Rovers 4pts (+1) 3. Bandon 0pts (-4).
IHL Draw 2011/12: Pool A: Glenanne, Banbridge, Cookstown, Monkstown, Cork Harlequins, Instonians.
Pool B: Lisnagarvey, YMCA, Pembroke Wanderers, Annadale, Cork C of I, Three Rock Rovers
Women’s ESB Electric Ireland Irish Hockey League Wildcard playoffs, results: Old Alexandra 1 (Nicola Gray) Ards 0; UCC 4 (Ali O’Regan, K Murphy, Fiona O’Connell, Vicky O’Sullivan) Greenfileds 1 (Neasa McGettigan)
Standings: 1. Old Alexandra 9pts (+12); 2. UCC 6pts (0); 3. Ards 3pts (+1) 4. Greenfields 0 pts (-14).
IHL Draw 2011/12, Pool A: Hermes, Pegasus, Armagh, UCD, Catholic Institute, Old Alex.
Pool B: Ballymoney, Loreto, Railway, Lurgan, Cork Harlequins, UCC.