A 6-1 win for Banbridge over Pembroke Wanderers at Havelock Park on Saturday, with two goals each for Jamie Wright and Johnny McKee, has sealed their place in the EYHL playoffs.
The line up, which was confirmed with Bann’s emphatic victory also includes Lisnagarvey, Three Rock Rovers and Glenanne. A place in Europe is the prize on offer for the overall winners of the final four tournament at Banbridge at the start of next month.
A week on from giving Pembroke a lifeline in the top four chase, Banbridge firmly slammed the door shut as their resounding win over the same opposition confirmed the sides for the playoffs.
Bann got off to a dream start as Wright scored twice in the opening two minutes to pave the victory path. They had plenty of chances in the first quarter and they extended the lead to five by half-time with Eugene Magee firing home a trademark reverse and McKee got on the score-sheet from a Wright assist.
Youngster Mark Cowan completed the scoring before the break from a penalty stroke. McKee added a beautiful sixth after half-time before Harry Spain pulled one back from a corner with 12 minutes to go but their playoff hopes had already gone up in smoke.
In the other men’s EYHL game to be played, Three Rock scored an 8-2 win over Cookstown to move within a point of Lisnagarvey – who play against Annadale in midweek – at the top of the table.
The significance of it, though, will probably be more keenly felt at the bottom of the table as it dropped the Tyrone side to 10th below Cork C of I on goal difference.
It was also 5-0 at half-time as Luke Madeley roofed a drag-flick in the first quarter. Jody Hosking rode a tackled to shoot home the next before Ben Walker scored two in a minute and Madeley added another corner for the fifth.
Rovers moved seven clear before Cookstown got two back via Callum Anderson and Michael Kerr but Rovers added another for good measure. It leaves Cookstown three behind C of I on goal difference going into the final day of the season. They play Banbridge while C of I face Three Rock.
Willie Edgar produced two pieces of individual brilliance to win the men’s Irish Hockey Challenge final for Ballynahinch at Serpentine Avenue in a superb display of expansive attacking hockey against Limerick who lost a thriller 4-3.
It saw the Ulster side retain the title in style, making it three wins overall in this competition since 2012. Intent from both sides was clear from the very start with Max Clein deflecting just wide for Limerick in the opening seconds while Hinch’s Alex Millar had two big chances almost immediately.
It went back and forth at break-neck speed with goals soon starting to flow. Limerick skipper Nathan Eacrett picked out a lovely diagonal ball into the path of Victor Biais who controlled on the spin to open the chance and then flicked in beautifully.
Hinch swapped the lead with barely 18 minutes gone as Matthew Martin’s thunderous shot equalised and then Scott Leetch finished off for 2-1 at the right post after a left-wing cross caused havoc. Biais was not long waiting for his second goal, however, as Nick Lampp’s free just outside the 23m line opened the door and the striker picked out the top corner with a flick by Aaron Donnell – 2-2 at half-time.
The Ulster side, though, always look the more composed side with former Inst man Martin and Edgar having that touch of class to go with it. The second half was slightly tighter but Hinch started to run up the corner count, necessitating lots of rearguard work from Justin Scheffel and his defensive team.
Limerick kept out seven set pieces but parity ended when Edgar went on a virtuoso run down the right channel and pulled off an audacious scoop which went in off the stanchion of crossbar and post. That was with 13 minutes to go and he made it 4-2 a minute later, this time weaving his way out of traffic and selling the goalkeeper a dummy before rolling into an open net.
Nathan Eacrett slammed in a reverse from Limerick’s only penalty corner with five minutes to go, making things lively for the latter stages. But Ballynahinch had the nous to see out the endgame and lift the crown for a third time.
Three Rock Rovers II ended Instonians hopes of winning the Irish Junior Cup with a 4-1 win on Sunday in Dublin where Ross McKnight got the Belfast side’s consolation while Civil Service went down 3-1 to Waterford in the Irish Hockey Trophy decider.
On the women’s scene Chelsey Whan’s sweet penalty corner finish propelled Dromore to their second ever women’s Irish Hockey Challenge title as they edged out Clonmel at Serpentine Avenue 1-0 on Saturday. The Challenge – formerly the May Costley Cup – is Irish hockey’s most unpredictable competition and Dromore became the tenth different winner in the last 10 years, adding to their success in 2008.
They did it in style, working lovely patterns in their forward lines while stifling Clonmel’s attacking threats for long periods with a controlled display.
Indeed, they bossed the first half but could not make that superiority count. Four penalty corners were charged down by the tight-knit Clonmel defence with Katie McDonald shooting over from the follow-up of their first corner 10 minutes in.
The interchanges between Emma Wilson, Hannah Buchanan and Emer Melville were causing problems but they kept running into defensive brick walls with Betty Barlow a key figure in shutting them out. And, on the break, the Tipperary outfit did have their moments with Jill Shanahan the focal point of their attack. She raced through and turned on a six-pence to open up a shooting chance but it flashed wide of the right post.
The pick of the Dromore openings came two minutes before half-time but Ana Clarke could not get full force behind her shot and the confident Jenny O’Brien booted clear, leaving it 0-0 at half-time. The second half followed a similar pattern with Dromore holding most of the play with their forward triangle causing problems but Susan Meaney’s side were resolute in their task.
Again, Shanahan almost latched onto breaking ball in the circle for Clonmel but they were eventually caught in the 51st minute.
It came following a wave of attacks which led to a penalty corner. Clonmel broke the line, reducing the numbers for the set piece, and Dromore cleverly worked the ball around the circle to Katie McDonald. She arrowed across from right to left where Whan was waiting to gleefully sweep home.
From there, they looked the more likely to kick on and make the game safe until the last five minutes when Clonmel produced a rousing volley of attacks with plenty of long balls wreaking havoc. And they thought they had their equaliser from their sole penalty corner. It was switched to the injector by Barlow to Maeve Murphy who struck crisply first time but Eve Hughes brilliantly got across to save with her knee.
With that scare over, Dromore regained their composure to stay clear to the final whistle with some calm work, running down the time for a famous win.
Meanwhile, Queen’s women need just two points from their remaining two Ulster Premier League games to be guaranteed the crucial runners up spot after making hard work of beating second bottom Randalstown at the Dub.
There is a strong possibility that only champions Lurgan and the team that finishes below them will qualify for next season’s second-tier Irish Hockey League from which the winners are promoted to the top flight.
If Ards are relegated back into the Ulster League from the IHL then they would be granted an automatic berth in the national second division which runs concurrently with the domestic competition. That’s looking increasingly likely after a shock 2-1 win for basement side Muckross over Dublin rivals UCD on Thursday night.
Having now been overtaken by Muckross, Ards go to Cork Harlequins on April 27, needing nothing short of victory to force even a relegation play-off.
After a bright start, Queen’s faded and, with a little luck, Randalstown could have got a goal back to set up a nervy finish after trailing 2-0 at the break. The students got off to a dream start when ex-Town player Rebecca Quinn drove into the circle and slipped the ball to Claire Whiteside, who applied a clinical finish.
Irish international Jessica McMaster slammed in a brilliant backhand shot eight minutes later and it looked like the floodgates would open. But instead, Queen’s missed a host of chances with McMaster twice going close and Tori Hastings being denied by Town keeper Laura Chestnutt, with the Co Antrim side looking dangerous on the break.
Elsewhere, newly-crowned champions Lurgan were held to a 1-1 draw by Lisnagarvey at Comber Road where Sarah McClure levelled after Rachel Houston had put the hosts ahead.
Paula Haugh, Orla Magee, Stef McCullough and Samantha Bann were on target for Banbridge in a 4-1 win over relegated Ballymena, whose consolation came from Claire Gillespie.
Ulster Premier League: Banbridge 4 (P Haugh, O Magee, S McCullough, S Bann) Ballymena 1 (C Gillespie); Lisnagarvey 1 (R Houston) Lurgan 1 (S McClure); Queen’s 2 (C Whiteside, J McMaster) Randalstown 0.
Irish Hockey Challenge Final: Dromore 1 (C Whan) Clonmel 0.
EY Hockey League: Banbridge 6 (J McKee 2, J Wright 2, M Cowan, E Magee) Pembroke 1 (H Spain); Three Rock Rovers 8 (L Madeley 2, B Walker 2, J Hosking, M English, K Mullins, H Morris) Cookstown 2 (C Anderson, M Kerr).
Ulster Premier League: Kilkeel 2 (J Aiken, M Henning) Newry 3 (K McWilliams 2, N McKnight)
Sussex Regiment Cup: Queen’s 3 (J Hermon, R Kelly, B Alford) South Antrim 1 (T Curragh); North Down 2 (J Gilmore, G McKeown) Mossley 2 (J Robinson 2)
Irish Hockey Trophy: Civil Service 1 (D Whittington) Waterford 3
Irish Hockey Challenge: Ballynahinch 4 (W Edgar 2, N Martin, S Leitch) Limerick 3
Irish Junior Cup: Three Rock II 4 Instonians II 1 (N McKnight)