Hermes and Cork Harlequins were the big winners in the final round of women’s IHL group matches, denying reigning champions Loreto and Pembroke in the race for the semi-final places.
Needing a draw to advance, Hermes struck twice in the second half of their tie to end Loreto’s dreams of keeping the title in Beaufort, gaining a modicum of revenge for last year’s penalties defeat in the finals.
The visitors started strongly, drawing a couple of decent saves from the returning Louisa Healy and earning a trio of penalty corners. Anna O’Flanagan shot just wide, too, before Cathy McKean and Nikki Symmons showed their teeth, combining to test the reactions of Emma Gray in their best act of a lively, if ultimately scoreless, first half.
The second half followed a similar vein with Loreto showing more attacking force with Nicci Daly’s forceful runs counter-acted by O’Flanagan’s near miss.
But the breakthrough finally came Hermes’ way on the hooter for the third quarter with Elaine O’Neill getting the all-important touch on Quinlan’s strike to deflect home. And they sealed the win nine minutes from time when Chloe Watkins netted a penalty stroke, following a goal-mouth scramble.
The win meant the remaining matches in the pool were immaterial, barring to determine who topped the group.
And Pegasus claimed that honour with plenty to spare. They earned a wealth of corner before eventually taking the lead in the third quarter when Claire McMahon netted from the penalty spot. An own goal and a Suzanne Beaney strike gave them a 3-0 lead by the end of the period, augmented further by Jenny Kyle and Arlene Boyles’ straight strike to complete a 5-0 win.
Old Alex, meanwhile, ended their maiden IHL campaign in fourth place in Pool B of a competitive, high tempo tie in Milltown.
Julia O’Halloran opened the scoring early in the second half before Aoife Budd equalised and Hazel Agar grabbed the winner just before the end of the third quarter.
Over in Pool A, Pembroke’s bid for a first IHL semi-final appearance was upended in a spectacular 5-4 loss to already qualified Railway Union in which the pendulum swung wildly in each direction.
Sarah Clarke got Pembroke on the score-sheet first with a trademark corner strike but Railway stormed back in the second quarter to take the lead after Nikki Evans finished off after a good run by Kate Dillon while Jean McDonnell nailed a corner.
And they were 3-1 up when Isobel Joyce’s shot took a slight deflection to foil Kelly Scott between the posts. Sinead Walsh created the fourth for Nikki Evans.
Pembroke, though, still had belief and pulled one back when former Railway woman Shona Doyle pounced on a corner rebound off the crossbar, 4-2 on three quarter-time.
And the visitors were back on terms in jig-time in a matter of minutes when Rachel McKeon finished off a good move before player of the match Anli Kotze sent the ball into the net from a short corner strike.
With Harlequins leading against Ards, Pembroke needed the win to go through, making for a tempestuous final 15 minutes in which player-coach Natalie Fulton was sin-binned for two minutes.
But hard as they pressed, it was Railway who took the laurels when Jean McDonnell crashed home her second of the game.
Down in Cork, Quins picked off a 3-1 win against Ards to return to the semi-finals. Karen Bateman opened the scoring after seven minutes but Ards were back on terms by the break.
Two second half goals, though, from Bateman sent the Farmer’s Cross women through to the last four. Down the road in Garryduff, Cork C of I and Ballymoney cancelled each other out in an uneventful tie, ending 0-0.
Pool A: Railway Union 5 (Nikki Evans 2, Jean McDonnell 2, Isobel Joyce) Pembroke 4 (Sarah Clarke, Shona Doyle, Rachel McKeon, Anli Kotze); Cork Harlequins 3 (Karen Bateman 3) Ards 1; Cork C of I 0 Ballymoney 0 Pool A standings: 1. Railway Union 18pts (+12) 2. Cork Harlequins 12pts (+3) 3. Pembroke 11pts (+1) 4. Ballymoney 7pts (-4) 5. Ards 6pts (-4) 6. Cork C of I 3pts (-8)
Pool B: Loreto 0 Hermes 2 (Elaine O’Neill, Chloe Watkins); Pegasus 5 (Claire McMahon, own goal, Suzanne Beaney, Jenny Kyle, Arlene Boyles) Randalstown 0; Old Alex 2 (Aoife Budd, Hazel Agar) UCC 1 (Julia O’Halloran)
Pool B standings: 1. Pegasus 16pts (+10) 2. Hermes 14pts (+8) 3. Loreto 10pts (+2) 4. Old Alex 8pts (-2) 5. UCC 7pts (-1) 6. Randalstown 1pt (-17)
* For more of Adrian Boehm's photos from the Loreto vs Hermes game, click here