Pegasus will meet Belfast Harlequins in the prestigious Denman Ulster Shield final on Boxing Day after two sharply contrasting semi-finals at Stormont on Sunday.
Harlequins were involved in a nailbiting clash with Ulster Elks, edging out the only surviving Premier League side 2-1 but Pegasus were too strong for Ards, coming out on the top of a 7-2 scoreline. It actually threatened to be a bigger margin as Pegasus led 5-0 after only 23 minutes but, credit to Ards, who battled all the way and ‘drew’ the remaining 47 minutes 2-2.
Lucy McKee got the opener after only two minutes scoring from close range and Shirley McCay banged in number two from a penalty corner two minutes later. Alex Speers than set up Kate Gourley who made it 3-0 when she shot home from 10 metres after finding herself unmarked in front of goal. Ruth Maguire added number four in the 21st minute and then Gourley scored from close range after another assist from Speers.
Ards hit back when Caroline Adams rifled in her team’s first penalty corner in the 27th minute to make it 5-1 at the break. In the 43rd minute, great work by Ali Carson down the right produced a chance for Francesca Brown to score and she made no mistake. Six minutes later, McCay got her second from a penalty corner and Taite Doherty rounded off the scoring two minutes later.
The second semi-final was a much closer contest as Elks, with Ireland star Megan Frazer pulling the strings, gave as good as they got after trailing to a seventh minute Jenna Watt goal which came against the run of play. Frazer levelled from a penalty corner in the 31st minute although Anna Hutchinson might have got the final touch.
At this stage, if anything, Elks looked the more likely team to add to their tally as Quins keeper Marianne Fox dived full length to keep out Bronwyn Kretzmann’s backhand effort and then Judith Allen went close. However, Quins improved after the break as the Elks were guilty of squandering possession too often and Claire Weir could have made it 2-1 in the 43rd minute.
But with the EYHL side continuing to have the edge, Abigail Edwards hammered in the winner in the 54th minute from a second phase penalty corner. Elks withdrew their goalkeeper, Gemma Ferguson, with four minutes remaining in order to have an extra outfield player but Quins held on without too much difficulty.
Meanwhile, Ireland picked up the team of the year accolade at the RTE Sports awards night in Dublin while Graham Shaw collected the manager of the year prize. One of Ulster’s six World Cup silver medallists, Shirley McCay was both pleasantly surprised and delighted at the accolades.
Ireland and Shaw beat off stiff competition to take the honours, with the Ireland rugby team, who beat the All Blacks for the first time on home soil and their head coach Joe Schmidt many people’s favourites to pip hockey for the awards.
Shirley said: “It was a fantastic achievement in the circumstances for both the team and Graham to finish ahead of the rugby lads in both categories.”
“We also pipped Dublin’s gaelic footballers, who won their fourth all Ireland in a row, the Limerick hurlers who also won their final after a long gap and those teams would have had a lot of support from the public vote. But I think it says a lot for the power of social media and all the girls and the hockey family in general worked very hard to encourage people to vote for the team.”
“I also suppose the fact we went into the World Cup as the second lowest-ranked team and ended up finishing second helped persuade people that we deserved to win the award. It’s a great honour and we are also delighted for Graham, who, I know, will be immensely proud to have picked up his award for all his hard work in the build up to London.”
Shaw said: “This is a huge moment for our sport. We’ve got a special group of people involved in the team who train really hard and work really hard for each other. This was our first World Cup as a group and to show the level of composure and togetherness that the team did is something I’m very very proud of”.
Ireland captain Katie Mullan collected the trophy on behalf of the team. The Coleraine woman added: “It’s a huge honour to be standing here with this award. The entire nation got behind us over the summer and they’ve done the same tonight and we’re so grateful for their support.”
Meanwhile, on the men’s scene, Ulster Premier champions Kilkeel bounced back from the previous week’s loss to South Antrim to beat Instonians 3-2 on Saturday.
They had to come from behind after goals from William Robinson and Ross Blair put Inst 2-1 up at half-time but Kilkeel fought back to win with Mark Henning, Eddie Agnew and Johnny Aiken on the mark.
Bangor have taken over at the summit after Harry Dow scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Raphoe while South Antrim drew 2-2 at Civil Service and Newry beat Portadown 3-2 at Edenvilla in the other games that beat the weather.
Ulster Premier League: Kilkeel 3 (M Henning, E Agnew, J Aiken) Instonians 2 (W Robinson, R Blair); Portadown 2 (S Johnston, R Bennett) Newry Olympic 3 (K McWilliams, N McKnight, K Fletcher); Bangor 1 (H Dow) Raphoe 0; Civil Service 2 (R Anderson, T Priestley) South Antrim 2 (M Gray, J Brown); Mossley P North Down P.
Intermediate League: Ballymena 3 Saintfield 0; PSNI 1 Down 0; Parkview 2 Portrush 4
Denman Ulster Shield Semi-Finals: Pegasus 7 (L McKee, S McCay 2, K Gourley 2, R Maguire, T Doherty) Ards 2 (C Adams, F Brown); Belfast Harlequins 2 (J Watt, A Edwards) Ulster Elks 1 (M Frazer)
Senior One: Coleraine 2 (K Caithness, C Lyttle) Priorians 5 (E Allen, J Kennedy 2, E Goodman 2)