A manic double-weekend in the women’s EYHL ended as it started, with Loreto leading the way by three points. It wasn't as straight forward as it seems however, as Loreto only secured their victory in the final few minutes on Sunday evening.
On Saturday, Loreto fel to a 2-1 defeat to Pegasus in a feisty affair. The Beaufort side gave up a 1-0 half-time lead as Ruth Maguire and Alex Speers turned things around in a card-fest, for Pegasus.
To compound things, Old Alex secured a 2-1 victory on Saturday over Catholic Institute. As a result the table half-way through the weekend had three sides level on 28 points - as the epic battle for top sport of the EY Hockey League continues to rage on.
The following day on Sunday, UCD closed the gap on the top three as they followed up a 4-1 Saturday win over Belfast Harlequins with a 1-0 win over Pegasus at Queen’s. Katherine Egan's solo goal was the match-winner.
With that result, both Old Alex and Loreto had the chance to move clear at the top of the table if they could secure victory on Sunday evening. The top of the table clash looked set to be heading for a draw when Hannah Matthews and Millie O’Donnell traded goals with only minutes to go. Ali Meeke however proved to have the golden touch when she weighed in with a crucial final minute effort to secure a 2-1 win, to lift Loreto clear, albeit with a game extra played that the next three sides in the table.
Pegasus 2 (R Maguire, A Speers) Loreto 1 (H Mulcahy)
Loreto looked set for a comfortable victory after dominating the first half and going into the break 1-0 up but Pegasus were the better side after the break, scoring twice in quick succession to seal a crucial three points.
The match at the Dub was steeped in controversy with the umpires showing no fewer than eight cards, including a 10-minute yellow to Ireland World Cup star Ali Meeke for dissent.
Her Loreto team mate Sarah Evans was shown three cards, a green followed by a yellow and then another green while Pegasus starlet Olivia Berry received a green and a yellow.
Pegasus coach Greg Thompson said: "Loreto will go home feeling aggrieved at some of the decisions but these things tend to balance out over the course of a season."
"I wasn't happy with our first-half display and I asked the players for more application and intensity and, fortunately, they responded well."
Loreto broke the deadlock in the eighth minute when Hayley Mulcahy latched on to a quick free and hammered in a superb backhand shot. The Dublin side were well on top after that boost and it took several fine saves from Megan Todd to keep her team in the game.
Two minutes into the second-half, Pegasus levelled matters when Ruth Maguire converted a penalty stroke after 'feet' in the circle.
Four minutes later, Alex Speers scored what turned out to be the winner, drifting across the circle before firing home a backhand shot, the ball entering the net off the far post.
Loreto forced two penalty corners in quick succession in the last minute, Meeke seeing yellow after the umpire had originally awarded a free out for the second before changing her mind after a consultation, but the Pegasus defence held firm.
UCD 4 (E Curran, N Carey, A Russell, KJ Marshall) Belfast Harlequins 1 (L Colvin)
UCD continued to move back into range of the leaders with a strong 4-1 win over Belfast Harlequins at Belfield. They were unable to breakthrough in the first half despite a series of three penalty corners but they eventually got on the board in the third quarter courtesy of Ellen Curran from a penalty corner.
Lizzie Colvin equalised from a Quin corner but parity was short-lived as Niamh Carey finished off a great team move, aided and abetted by Hannah McLoughlin. Abbie Russell put UCD out of sight with eight minutes to go.
And the extra insurance goal came soon after when Curran drove from the top of the circle to find Katie-Jane Marshall’s stick and she fired home her first goal for UCD.
Pembroke 3 (E Beatty 2, J Ringwood) Cork Harlequins 1 (E O’Leary)
Pembroke saw off an understrength Cork Harlequins 3-1 at Serpentine Avenue to keep them rolling along in fifth place with Emily Beatty’s twin corner deflections doing the damage.
She opened the scoring in the ninth minute from a set play but Emily O’Leary ensure the game was all square going into half-time at 1-1 with a 28th minute effort.
But Pembroke’s penalty corner game was solid with Jilly Ringwood restoring the advantage 13 minutes into the second half from another set piece move. Beatty then completed the win with another touch from a corner inside the last five minutes to put Pembroke out of range.
Quins were without Lauren Cripps, Enya O’Donoghue and Nikki Barry for the encounter.
Railway Union 2 (Z Delany, S Hawkshaw) Muckross 1 (S Barnwell)
Railway ended a run of six successive defeats to record their first win since November, putting daylight between them and bottom placed Belfast Harlequins. It was a very even contest throughout with Muckross earning the first corners while Kate Dillon tested Ellie McLoughlin at the far end and the recent Irish call-up also did well to keep out Kate Lloyd in a scoreless first half.
Muckross went in front in Q3 when Sophie Barnwell tapped in at the back post from a corner move but Railway were level inside two minutes. It was the same corner move as Muckross used for their goal and it ended with Zara Delany putting in the rebound.
Railway continued to push on into the final quarter and got their reward with eight minutes to go when Sarah Hawkshaw shot into the goal with a reverse-stick shot. Muckross had a corner in the dying moments but Railway kept it out to preserve a precious win.
Old Alex 2 (E Ryan-Doyle, S Robinson) Catholic Institute 1 (R Upton)
Old Alex moved into a three-way share of first place on Saturday evening as they came back from a goal down to beat Catholic Institute 2-1. Roisin Upton continued her excellent goalscoring run when she put Insta in front in the 10th minute from the penalty spot.
But Alex started to turn the tide in the second quarter when they levelled through Emilie Ryan-Doyle and Sarah Robinson scored from another penalty stroke in the first minute of the second half to make it 2-1.
Loreto 2 (H Matthews, A Meeke) Old Alex 1 (M O’Donnell)
Ali Meeke’s final minute touch to a Sarah Torrans pass was the last, and most telling, moment of a jam-packed EY Hockey League double weekend as it saw Loreto rebuild a three-point lead at the top of the table.
That advantage had been wiped out on Saturday afternoon but they bounced back to lead 1-0 in the second quarter via Hannah Matthews from a penalty corner. In what was a ding-dong battle throughout the field, there was plenty of spice to the exchanges but Alex got back to 1-1 with just a few minutes left on the clock via Millie O’Donnell
That would have seen four teams covered by just two points had it stayed that way but Loreto summoned one last attack and Meeke cashed in and her side lead again by three, albeit with a game extra played than Pegasus and Old Alex with UCD lurking a point further back, also with a game in hand.
Belfast Harlequins 3 (J Dennison 2, L Geddes) Pembroke 4 (S Loughran, G Pinder, H O’Donnell, J Ringwood)
Belfast Harlequins' hopes of avoiding automatic relegation from the EY Irish Hockey League for the first time suffered another blow when they lost a seven goal thriller to Pembroke at Deramore.
Quins, who went down 4-1 to UCD in Dublin on Saturday, remain five points adrift at
the foot of the table with just four games left.
Bethany Barr, back from a lengthy injury break, set up the opener after only seven minutes when she supplied the pass for Lucy Geddes to finish after a good move down the left.
But Pembroke equalised almost immediately when Sinead Loughran deflected home a great ball in from Maebh Horan.
Seven minutes later, Gill Pinder scored a brilliant second, the Ireland World Cup star firing home powerfully into the corner of the net after exchanging passes with Alice Ward.
Hayley O'Donnell made it 3-1 in the 27th minute from a penalty corner and Julie Dennison pulled one back from a similar situation with 19 minutes left.
Jill Ringwood added Pembroke's fourth after being set up by Ward, with the home defence left exposed after squandering a set-piece at the other end.
Dennison again reduced the deficit with a brilliant solo effort with four minutes left but Quins were unable to find an equaliser.
Pegasus 0 UCD 1 (K Egan)
UCD continue to close the gap to the leaders with a third straight win and have now taken points off each of the sides ahead of them in the last few weeks. They went in front in the first quarter when Niamh Carey worked like a tiger in the D to get a shot off and Katherine Egan stole in to put the loose ball away.
They made most of the play in the first quarter before the second period was more balanced with Clodagh Cassin called on to make some important interventions.
Lena Tice marshalled a very strong defensive after that with UCD skipper Ellen Curran dominating the midfield in a very high pace game. Despite Pegasus’s consistent effort and significant pressure – especially when the students were reduced to 10 players late on – UCD held on for the win in a game of no penalty corners.
Catholic Institute 3 (L Foley, R Upton, R Pratt) Railway Union 0
Catholic Institute added to their excellent post-Christmas form with a 3-0 win over Railway Union to rise to a season highest position of sixth. Laura Foley put them in front in the 14th minute before they had to weather several Railway penalty corners.
At the far end, Roisin Upton scored for the fourth successive game with another penalty stroke for a 2-0 advantage in the third quarter and the result was safe when Rosie Pratt netted the third with under four minutes to go.
Cork Harlequins 0 Muckross 1 (S Cannon)
Muckross got their first win since December via Susie Cannon’s 21st minute goal at Farmers’ Cross. It lifts them up to seventh place, above Cork Harlequins on goal difference and four points clear of the relegation playoff spot occupied by Railway Union.