Clontarf, Instonians, UCD and Bandon took their place in the final four of the men’s EY Hockey League promotion playoffs after a dramatic set of group stages at the Merrion Fleet Arena and at Comber Road.
Clontarf topped Pool B in a drama-filled round-robin, producing an important win on day three to jump ahead of Belfast Harlequins, advancing along with Bandon.
Corinthian, though, were agonisingly a goal shy of the west Cork outfit despite a final day 3-2 win, leaving the Leinster champions down and out.
On day one, the reds had shared the spoils with Tarf for the third time this season. Both goals came within 30 seconds of each other. Corinthian took the lead from a corner rebound after George Dagg reacted quickest to the initial save.
From push back Clontarf moved the ball to Gareth Borland at right back who found Kevin Mullins via an aerial. He took the ball down above head height pulled it away from goal and reversed over the scrambling Ross Murray, 1-1 the outcome.
Bandon beat Belfast Harlequins for what proved a vital result, winning the tie 2-0 with Colin Kingston and David Smith
Bandon were to draw with Clontarf the next day in another evenly fought battle, the third season in a row they have played each other. One corner a piece had gone a begging before Bandon took the lead in the 26th minute after a turnover in midfield with David Jennings getting the goal.
Clontarf equalised in the 47th minute after a Tom Noonan effort came back off the post and Kevin Murray potted over the the Bandon keeper. Clontarf felt they probably left the win behind as a corner count of seven to one was not capitalised on.
It meant Bandon topped the group going into the final phase of matches with Belfast Harlequins jumping into second place thanks to a 2-0 win over Corinthian at the end of day two.
For Clontarf, a win of any description would be enough to progress and they started the brighter against Quins. From two early corners, though, went unconverted with one cleared off the line.
Harlequins came back into the game and scored in the 26th minute of the half with a back post tap in after a baseline run.
Clontarf regrouped at half time and played with a much higher pace in the second half. The equaliser came with an element of fortune as a quick break and a misplaced pass by Kev Mullins to Stu Bradley in the D deflected off his stick and found its way past Iain Kelly in his 1,000th match for the club.
The important lead was gained in the 45th minute via a penalty corner, Kev Mullins slotting home. Harlequins had a few half chances after that as Clontarf attempted to close the game out.
And they confirmed the win when a long corner was intercepted by Kev Mullins on his 23m line. He ran at pace at the two centre backs before spinning them on the half way.
Three other scrambling defenders attempted to close him down before entering the D. He rounded the keeper, slightly miscontrolling the ball. But, from two meters off the baseline and five Harlequins’ outfielders between him and the goal, he unleashed a reverse stick high into the far netting of the goal.
On the other pitch, meanwhile, Corinthian needed a two-goal win over Bandon to get into the top two with Clontarf. That task got even harder on the stroke of half-time when injector Sean Nyhan popped home for 1-0.
Corinthian levelled and then went 2-1 up after Bandon suffered four sin-binnings in quick succession, conceding when they were down to nine players. But they fought back to level once again with Colin Kingston dragging home from another corner.
The reds kept battling and went back in front from a corner at the second attempt. Bandon then survived three more corners to eventually cling on to the single-goal defeat that was enough to put them through ahead of Corinthian.
At Comber Road in Pool A, Instonians and UCD won their way through to the knock-out stages of the promotion playoffs. They both laid the base for their progression on Friday evening with Inst running out 5-0 winners against Raphoe while UCD shaded a 1-0 result against UCC.
Instonians then improved their position markedly with a narrow, backs-to-the-wall 2-1 win over UCD on Saturday. Very early goals from William Robinson and Mark Irwin had the Ulster champions 2-0 up before UCD laid siege to their goal for long periods. Jeremy Duncan’s second half effort narrowed the gap but they could not summon a second goal as Inst clung on to a 2-1 result.
With UCC beating Raphoe 4-0 via doubles from Greg Chambers and Fionn O’Leary, it set up a big final day of action. The Cork side needed a two-goal win to overhaul Inst in the final game and were on course when Sam Grace opened the scoring in the first half.
But a William Robinson goal – his fourth of the weekend – put paid to UCC’s hopes as the northern side bagged a 1-1 drag and top spot.
UCD joined them as they scored the last five goals in the second half of their tie against Raphoe. They led 2-1 at the break but a goals from Andrew Meehan levelled the game but the students finished stronger with Andrew Ramsay, Duncan, Shane Madeley, David Nolan and Jazze Henry all chipping in.
UCD will meet Clontarf next Saturday while Instonians face Bandon in the semi-finals at Grange Road for a place in Sunday’s final showdown for promotion.
EY Hockey League Playoffs
Friday: Instonians 5 (W Robinson 2, J Corry, C Kirk, S Kelso) Raphoe 0; UCD 1 (J Duncan) UCC 0
Saturday: Instonians 2 (W Robinson, M Irwin) UCD 1 (J Duncan); Raphoe 0 UCC 4 (G Chambers 2, F O’Leary 2)
Sunday: Instonians 1 (W Robinson) UCC 1 (S Grace); UCD 7 (A Ramsay 2, J Duncan 2, S Madeley, D Nolan, J Henry) Raphoe 2 (L Witherow, A Meehan)
Standings: 1. Instonians 7pts (+6) 2. UCD 6pts (+5) 3. UCC 4pts (+3) 4. Raphoe 0pts (-14)
Friday: Corinthian 1 (G Dagg) Clontarf 1 (K Mullins); Bandon 2 (C Kingston, D Smith) Belfast Harlequins 0
Saturday: Corinthian 1 Belfast Harlequins 2 (L McClelland, J Hutchinson); Bandon 1 (D Jennings) Clontarf 1 (K Murray)
Sunday: Corinthian 3 Bandon 2 (S Nyhan, C Kingston); Clontarf 3 (K Mullins 2, S Bradley) Belfast Harlequins 1 (N Anderson)
Standings: 1. Clontarf 5pts (+2) 2. Bandon 4pts (+1) 3. Corinthian 4pts (0) 4. Belfast Harlequins 3pts (-3)
EYHL Promotion playoff semi-finals (Saturday, April 23; Grange Road): Instonians vs Bandon, 3pm; Clontarf vs UCD, 5pm