Three Rock Rovers and Old Alex gave their hopes of qualifying for the 2011/12 Irish Hockey League a big boost as both recorded wins on the opening night of the wildcard playoffs in Garryduff.
For Rovers, it was something of a battle as they eventually won out 2-1 with a late goal against Bandon. The Dubliners made all the early running, and went ahead after defender Mark Deane was sin-binned for taking down an aerial above shoulder-height. Rovers made Bandon pay from the resultant corner, Irish U-18 Tom Samuel slamming home on the second phase.
Rovers won a slew of corners but failed to take advantage, and Bandon gradually grew into the game, drawing level as Ireland A hitman Ali Smith drove a shot home across the visitors’ goalkeeper Stephen West.
The game disintegrated into something of a disciplinary farce thereafter, with sin-binnings for Bandon’s Scott Sullivan (not retreating), Andrew Kingston and Smith (breaking the line at penalty corner), while two Rovers players also saw yellow.
Sullivan’s return didn’t last long as he was shown another yellow for taking the ball above his shoulder, bringing with it an automatic red card. From the resultant corner, the first phase was broken down but the ball was reversed to the back post for Michael Maguire to touch home in the 65th minute.
A frantic last five minutes saw two more yellow cards, both for Three Rock players, but Bandon could not find an equaliser. Bandon must now hope Rovers see off Instonians on Saturday, to leave their clash with the Ulster side on Sunday as a straight shoot-out for the second spot.
Meanwhile, Irish international midfield star Shirley McCay gave a consummate performance as Old Alex got their Irish Hockey League wildcard campaign off to a perfect start with a 4-0 defeat of UCC at Garryduff.
While McCay was instrumental in giving the Milltown side the upper hand as they pinned the Cork students in their own half during the first 35 minutes, it was her former international colleague Roisin Flinn who took the goalscoring glory, netting a hat-trick.
Flinn opened the scoring early on when squeezing the ball home from a tight angle after being allowed to work her way along the baseline, before popping up at the back post to convert a cross for 2-0.
With Kate Collins Smyth, Nicola Gray, Sarah Canning and Emily Beatty also impressing, Alex turned the screw once more, forcing a string of good saves from College goalkeeper Emma White, who was deputising for the absent Zoe Cremin.
Cremin was one of four College players – including Munster interprovincial trio Ali O’Connor, Eibhlín O’Donoghue and Orla Crowley – who are missing the tournament due to exam commitments.
While the weakened students foughht valiantly in their absence, the game was ended as a contest when Aisling Naughton forced the ball home following a goalmouth scramble for a 3-0 lead at half-time.
College improved somewhat in the second period, with Irish international Miriam Crowley and her fellow forward schemer Ali O’Regan beignning to get some change from the Alex rearguard.
But they lacked a killer touch, and Flinn put a gloss on the scoreline by again netting at the back post to complete her hat-trick.
Ards joined Old Alex at the top of the pile after day one as their speed on the break helped them dispose of Connacht champions Greenfields.
In a match played on Cork C of I’s newly-laid sand-based pitch, Caroline Adams gave Ards the go-ahead goal, only for Mary Healy to deservedly pull Greenfields level in a tight contest.
The stalemate lasted just three minutes though, as Ards caught their opponents on the break to generate the chances for McClung to score twice, before Irish youth Olympian Chloe Brown added a fourth.
Saturday – Women: UCC v Ards, 12pm; Old Alex v Greenfields, 2pm; Men: Three Rock Rovers v Instonians, 4pm
Sunday: Women: Old Alex v Ards, 10am; UCC v Greenfields, 12pm; Men: Bandon vs Instonians, 2pm