Irish club hockey endured mixed fortunes on the European front yesterday after a weekend to remember for women’s clubs Railway Union and UCD was contrasted with the travails of Cork Harlequins on the men’s side.
Railway landed third place in the Club Champions Trophy, the second tier of European hockey, with a 2-0 win over Russian champions Izmaylovo in Antwerp with Zara Delany and Emma Smyth both on the mark.
It provided a superb send-off for coach Mick McKinnon who stepped down from his job at the club after six stunning years at the club, winning two Leinster leagues, two Jacqui Potter Cups, three Irish Hockey League titles, an Irish Senior Cup, an Irish indoor title and two EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy bronze medals.
Delany finished off a classy team move between Smyth and Kate Lloyd in the first half, working the ball around the goalkeeper to ensure a tidy finish.
In response, the Russians put Railway under pressure in the second quarter crashing balls into the circle but the Dublin side’s defence dealt with them well, player of the match Holly Jenkinson a tower of strength at the back.
Ten minutes into the second half Railway got their second goal from their first penalty corner following good approach work by Jenkinson. Smyth deflected in an Emer Lucey strike at the right post for the all-important two-goal buffer.
It was needed in a tetchy closing quarter in which Lucey and Julia O’Halloran both received questionable yellow cards, leaving Railway playing with nine players. Cecelia Joyce also had to leave the pitch after receiving a heavy hit on the arm while Alex Speers was tumbled a few times.
But Grace O’Flanagan pulled off a couple of crucial saves to keep a third clean sheet in the tournament and land third place in the competition.
UCD followed up with gold in the third tier Champions Challenge I in Sicily when they defeated HF Lorenzoni 4-3, holding off a big late comeback.
The key phase came early in the second half as three goals in four minutes transformed the game in the favour of Johnny Harte’s side. Nikki Evans had given her side an early lead only for Zhanna Savenko to level matters soon after.
But goals from Evans, Nicola Gray and Anna O’Flanagan between the 44th and 48th minute put Jonathan Harte’s side in control of the tie.
Savenko’s second with 19 minutes to go did give Lorenzoni a lifeline but they did not get another until the final hooter, leaving UCD to celebrate a 4-3 win and a perfect four wins from four record from the competition.
While it remains to be confirmed, the upshot is that Ireland could well have two berths in the second tier in 2014 which Railway and Loreto will occupy.
But, despite a 3-2 win over Swiss champions Rotweiss Wettingen, Harlequins’ seventh place finish in Vienna spells disaster for Irish club’s EuroHockey League hopes on the men’s side.
Early on Monday morning, Quins led three times with John Hobbs, Phil O’Driscoll and Darren Beamish, the winner eventually coming 13 minutes from the end.
With Cardiff falling to Polish side AZS Politechnika, it leaves Ireland level with Wales on 11.25 EHL ranking points with the dreaded goal difference equation required to divide the sides.
Last year, Ireland lost out to Scotland on the same dividing criteria when hoping to land a second EHL berth and the same criteria looks set to hand the Welsh the last EHL place, dropping Ireland to 13th in the rankings.
Two years ago, Ireland had two sides in the last 16 of the world’s most high profile club competition. But now it looks like Ireland will not receive any entry to the opening rounds of the competition for the 2013/14 season with Irish Hockey League and Senior Cup champions Monkstown the side destined for a second tier competition instead.
** Whilst I’ve mentioned it over the weekend, a huge thanks once again to Helen Johnston for her match reports and pictures over the weekend from Belgium; her Twitter updates, along with Andy Ewington’s, have been superb and much appreciated
** Men’s EHL update to be posted when final confirmation received
EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy, bronze medal match: Railway Union 2 (Z Delany, E Smyth) Izmaylovo 0
EuroHockey Club Champions Challenge I, final: UCD 4 (N Evans 2, N Gray, A O’Flanagan) HF Lorenzoni 3 (Z Savenko 2, S Argo)
EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy, seventh place playoff: Cork Harlequins 3 (J Hobbs, P O’Driscoll, D Beamish) Rotweiss Wettingen 2 (R Sporri, B Messerli)