O’Halloran strikes gold as Loreto lament Daly denial

Electric Ireland Women’s Irish Hockey League final
Railway Union 1 (Julia O’Halloran)

Julia O’Halloran’s 52nd minute smash earned Railway Union their second national title but chaos 13 seconds from the full-time hooter is likely to prove the indelible memory in a competition which seems to annually throw up major controversy.

Extra-time looked the likely recourse when Nicci Daly roofed a sublime shot from a narrow angle on the right of the circle but a beautiful late reprieve was not Loreto’s to be had.

Just prior to her shot rippling the net, the umpire’s whistle peeped, citing the shot to be dangerous, though few others in the ground saw it that way.

The aftermath drew vehement complaints and a debate first with fellow umpire, the captains and a walk toward the technical bench, quickly reverted back to the umpires, as confusion reigned.

No recourse to change the decision was offered, leaving an uneasy feeling around the Comber road surrounds.

Railway coach Mick McKinnon felt for Loreto’s plight but was keen to focus on his side’s exploits, saying afterwards: “I’m so proud of our girls so I’d rather talk about them and I hope it doesn’t take the tarnish off what is a victory.

“I feel for Loreto but it’s not our doing. Two minutes before, we felt we should have had a corner. It is very harsh on Loreto with the timing but its swings and roundabouts with umpire’s decisions.”

The upshot is Railway will now represent Ireland in Europe next season, the first time the country will have a place in the revamped EuroHockey Club Champion’s Cup.

It continues their incredible season, unbeaten in all competitions in normal time and on for a rare IHL and Irish Senior Cup double.

The first half was tight with chances scarce with a couple of penalty corners each the main openings of note with defenders like Hannah Matthews and Isobel Joyce excelling.

The latter was only playing due to a late release from Irish cricket duties in England which were rained off, joining the panel at the last minute with her twin sister Cecelia.
And Cecelia was pivotal in the only goal, crashing a ball from just outside the 25 that was miscontrolled by a Loreto defender, falling perfectly for O’Halloran to clatter home.

It was a lead that was comfortably held until the late Alamo charge. There was a warning shot 80 seconds from time when a routine free-in found Lizzie Colvin unattended, her shot bouncing wide.

A repeating situation, though, saw Sarah Clarke pick out an unmarked Daly for a rare shot of quality before the whistle intervened.

A last second penalty corner went a begging, too – perhaps sympathetically awarded – for the Beaufort side, but the ultimately laurels went Railway’s way.

McKinnon was delighted to pick up the major silverware – the second time his side has won the IHL – citing the depth of panel as a defining factor.

“I’m so proud of our girls and I’d rather talk about them. There have been 20 to 22 who have contributed. We found out last night that Cecelia and Isobel were available and that meant two had to drop out of the squad. They took it brilliantly, contributed superbly and I can’t speak highly enough of the squad, not the team.

“There have been different performers at different stages. Grace O’Flanagan this weekend has been outstanding and I’d like to single her out. Ultimately, though, it’s a squad effort.”

Looking to their European odyssey, he is looking forward to a shot at playing the very best in the world.

“The girls are getting an opportunity to play the best players in the world; what more can you ask for? It’s a reward for their hard work and I really hope what happened at the end doesn’t tarnish that.

“We’re unbeaten in normal time – the only game we lost is on strokes – so it’s not like we fluked the final. But obviously I’ve a lot of time for Loreto, their players and coaching staff and hopefully they can bounce back and I wish them all the best next week.”

Railway Union: G O’Flanagan, I Joyce, S Walsh, J McDonnell, E Smyth, E Lucey, E Dolan, S Dooley, O Fox, A Speers, J O’Halloran
Subs: K Dillon, H Jenkinson, K McKenna, C Joyce, Z Delany

Loreto: L Healy, A Meeke, N Daly, S McGirr, N Symmons, N Keegan, R Keegan, L Colvin, N Small, S Clarke, H Matthews
Subs: C McKean, O O’Shea, H Mulcahy, S Evans, J McGirr

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