Muckross magic to return to Irish hockey’s top table

Muckross’s meteoric rise back up the ranks hit another new high note as they won the women’s EY Hockey League provincial playoffs at the Mardyke, going unbeaten through an exceptionally tough five-team round-robin series.

Back-to-back 2-1 wins over Munster champions UCC and Ulster Premier winners Lurgan on Sunday proved vital, scoring the last goal of three both times for first place.

They started off in confident mood against NUIG with Yasmin Pratt – who ended the weekend with four goals in four games – driving into the circle before lobbing in an impudent first goal.

Rachel Cuddy’s cracking ball inspired Pratt’s second three minutes into the second half before Natasha Twomey closed out a 3-0 win.

All around them, it seemed draws were the order of the day with UCC’s Jenny Clein popping in a last minute equaliser for 1-1 versus Lurgan while Old Alex tied 1-1 with Lurgan, too.

UCC did move top of the day one rankings on goal difference with Clodagh Moloney’s hat-trick of set pieces giving them a 5-1 win over NUIG.

Leinster rivals Muckross and Old Alex completed day one with a scoreless draw, leaving four sides covered by just two points, setting up Sunday nicely.

Lurgan took their time but eventually scored twice in the last seven minutes to beat NUIG 2-0 courtesy of a Charlene Hull corner and a Lauren Wright effort.

In game two, Muckross became the first side to record a win against anyone other than the Galway students when they edged out UCC. Lisa Mulcahy’s raking pass found Jane Gilsenan on the run in the D and while her shot was saved, Pratt picked up the second phase for 1-0.

Louise Egan scored on the stroke of half-time to put the game back level but Gilsenan was credited with the winner nine minutes from the end amid a melee in the circle, 2-1 and a great position.

Old Alex mustered a 1-0 win over NUIG to ignite their challenge but they needed a favour if they were to win top spot.

But such hopes were dashed when Muckross won their fourth game. Lurgan took the initiative when Abbie McCullough nicked a corner goal in the first quarter but a smart Muckross move to injector Laura Hanlon equalised.

The tension mounted as the hailstones fell, leading to a 15-minute delay just before half-time with Lurgan waiting to take a corner. It was snuffed out and so parity lasted into the break and then through to the fourth minute of the final quarter.

Again, Pratt was the provider with a direct corner hit to put Muckross 2-1 ahead with time running out. A lengthy injury break ratcheted up the emotion even further as the seconds ground down ever slower before the final whistle finally came and the relief was felt.

The result left Lurgan out of the running in fourth, leaving the promotion/relegation spot set to be battled out between UCC and Old Alex in the final game of the weekend.

UCC needed a win to overhaul the Milltown side but were left to rue a number of missed corner chances as Alex number one runner Vanessa Winn did wonders while Pia Diepmann had a fine game at the base of the defence.

Alex had more of the game in the second half but did concede another corner in the closing minutes but the Dubliners defended it and the 0-0 draw was enough for second spot, keeping their promotion dream alive. Their next date is a battle with Trinity next Sunday.

Women’s EYHL Provincial Play-offs (all at the Mardyke)
Saturday: Lurgan 1 (L Wright) UCC 1 (J Clein); NUIG 0 Muckross 3 (Y Pratt 2, N Twomey); Old Alexandra 1 (L Jacob) Lurgan 1 (J-A Wilson); UCC 5 (C Moloney 3, A Bourke, J Clein) NUIG 1 (A Montano-King); Muckross 0 Old Alexandra 0
Sunday: NUIG 0 Lurgan 2 (C Hull, L Wright); Muckross 2 (Y Pratt, J Gilsenan) UCC 1 (L Egan); Old Alexandra 1 (R Evans) NUIG 0; Lurgan 1 (A McCullough) Muckross 2 (L Hanlon, Y Pratt); UCC 0 Old Alexandra 0

Standings: 1. Muckross 10pts (+5) 2. Old Alex 6pts (+1) 3. UCC 5pts (+3) 4. Lurgan 5pts (+1) 5. NUIG 0pts (-10)

Partners of The Hook