Men's IHL semi-finals
Pembroke 5 (Alan Sothern 2, Alan Giles, Mick O’Connor, Conor Harte) Glenanne 4 (Stephen Butler 2, Shane O’Donoghue, Jonathan Kane) after silver-goal extra-time
Where to start! Pure madness all round as Pembroke rallied after giving up a four goal lead for Conor Harte to sweep home an angrily contested winner in the first of the men’s semi-finals.
Major incidents abounded in a tetchy, fast-paced and bruising encounter defied belief at times and which, were it a Hollywood script, would be dismissed as an over-the-top flight of fantasy.
To start with, the simple stuff. Pembroke took an early lead when Alan Sothern found a way through Steven Doran’s defences for 1-0 in the 12th minute with a powerful drag-flick. Shane O’Donoghue had two decent efforts blocked while Stephen Butler saw one drag brilliantly denied by David Harte’s diving stick.
Pembroke went on to take total control as Glenanne were all at sea in the second period. Captain Alan Giles applied a brilliant guiding touch to Andy McConnell’s diagonal ball to double the difference before Craig Fulton played in Patrick Good on the baseline and his body swerve stylishly eliminated Doran to lay on a cross for Mick O’Connor to tap in from a metre out.
Sothern made it 4-0 on 25 minutes, slamming home another corner after Joe Brennan was adjudged to have kicked the ball rather than the glove he reckoned it hit. He took a green for his protestations – the same fate that befell Sothern in the first quarter for a niggly foul on Butler.
Butler, himself, gave the Glens a slight lifeline when he produced an incredible, glove-side corner flick from his side’s fourth corner for a three-goal deficit at the break.
He pulled another back with an odd corner in the second half. Playing what proved his last game before emigrating, Butler didn’t seem to catch the shot flush, pushing down the middle but Harte was unable to keep it out and the tension rose a notch.
At this stage, Pembroke were the side unable to find a pass or hold an ounce of possession but did have what they felt was a decent own goal shout waved away, their suggestions David Keogh’s shin had been shaved en route to the backboard dismissed.
The Glens were busy earning a plethora of corners. From their ninth, Shane O’Donoghue made it truly game on with ten minutes to go when he reversed through Harte on a switch move.
And 90 seconds later it was all square. Butler slammed a free from outside the circle goalwards. It seemed to go untouched, especially judging by player reaction, but umpire McConkey first swung his arms corner-wards and then switched around to indicate a goal.
Apparently Jonathan Kane got a touch but bemused supporters all round the ground were non-plussed while their was little reaction from Glenanne to claim the goal but it stood after consultation and it was level with eight minutes left.
Now back in a dogfight, Pembroke broke out of their shell in the 67th minute, Sothern bringing in McConnell down the left flank only to be denied by Gary Shaw’s sliding tackle in the circle.
Strangely, the tackle was severe enough to warrant a yellow card but not enough for a penalty stroke. The corner chance was brilliantly blocked by Mick McGuinness. There was still time left for O’Donoghue – the Hook’s nominee for player of the match – to dazzle his way past a couple of defenders and flick wide of the back post.
The diving Graham Shaw missed out by centimetres with mere seconds remaining of normal time and so to silver-goal for the third time in three fixtures on the day.
And five minutes later, Pembroke had their passage back to the semi-final secure when Conor Harte netted the most controversial of all decisions of the tie. It occurred on the half-time hooter of the silver-goal time added on.
A penalty corner was switched right but went slightly awry, leaving Craig Fulton to retrieve on the right edge of the circle. He crossed to Harte who swept – hands joined at the top of the stick – over the backboard. As first shot, surely it should have hit the backboard.
Pembroke wheeled away in celebration. The Glens, en masse, vehemently protested their case but umpire McConkey – in the face of some severe and downright ugly complaints – was not for turning.
The frustration was understandable but the unsavoury scenes continued all the way over to the technical bench where at least one red card was flashed in a frenzy of abuse.
Pembroke, though, are through and lie one a game away from their third club champion’s title in four years and a return to European competition.
* Adrian Boehm's photos from the game can be seen here while Emer Keogh's pics are here. To get the thoughts of captain Alan Giles, click the video below: