Pembroke ended the weekend extending their lead at the top of the women’s EY Hockey League as they secured four points from the six on offer to them.
On Saturday, they drew 1-1 in a high quality contest with Old Alex with World Cup silver medalists Gillian Pinder and Nikki Evans exchanging goals. Evans was first to strike with another wonder goal, a near carbon-copy of her effort a week ago against Pegasus, just two minutes into this tie.
But Pinder profited from some great pressing to equalise in the second half, earning a second successive draw for the table-toppers.
That allowed Catholic Institute cut the gap overnight on Saturday to one point as the Limerick side came from a goal down to defeat Cork Harlequins 6-1, their fifth successive league win. Naomi Carroll grabbed a brace to overturn Leah O’Shea’s first quarter strike for Quins.
For Pembroke on Sunday, though, they restored some breathing room when they dug deep to beat Cork Harlequins 2-1. Beth-Anne O’Farrell had put Quins in line for a shock result with a 49th minute penalty corner goal but Pembroke rallied quickly with Pinder netting a penalty stroke and Aisling Naughton got the winner in the 53rd minute.
The weekend’s action saw a gap emerge between Institute in second - and automatic EY Champions Trophy qualification - and the chasing pack with Alex in third place and Pegasus dropping to fourth.
That is because of their heavy 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Loreto. All the goals came in the second half with Hannah Matthews, Siofra O’Brien, Grace Donald and Sarah Torrans scoring.
It keeps the Beaufort side in the frame for a playoff place along with UCD and Railway Union who also won well.
UCD were 3-1 victors at Belfast Harlequins while Railway saw off Muckross 2-0. Those results meant there was no change in the relegation scenario - Cork Harlequins remain on one point with nine points required from their last four games to avoid the drop. Muckross are five points adrift of Belfast Harlequins and potential safety.
In EYHL Division 2, Ards picked up a significant win in Pool 1 when they beat Corinthian 3-1 to build a five-point lead at the top of that table. UCC got their campaign back in motion with a 4-1 success over Trinity to sit in third place.
In Pool 2, Monkstown marked themselves out further as the competition favourites as they recorded an 8-1 away win over Cork C of I. The result keeps them 10 points clear of Queen’s in second who were 1-0 winners at NUIG.
EYHL Division 1
Old Alex 1 (Nikki Evans) Pembroke 1 (Gillian Pinder)
Old Alex and Pembroke shared the spoils from an extremely hard-fought tussle in Milltown with World Cup silver medalists Nikki Evans and Gillian Pinder trading goals.
Alex were first to strike just 68 seconds into the contest when Evans pounced on some dither in defence, picking up the ball on the circle’s edge and unleashing a brilliant reverse stick shot to match her one from a week ago.
The hosts had the momentum in this phase with Emma Russell’s shot well saved by Emma Buckley while their first of five penalty corners slipper just wide.
With a higher press in Q2, Pembroke had more of the play as they pinned Alex back for spells as both goalkeepers pulled off key stops. Emily Beatty’s quick shot was parried away by Holly Micklem while Buckley slid out to smother the menacing Mikayla Power.
Martha McCready had a huge chance snuffed out on the goal line by Micklem and the goalkeeper produced the pick of the saves from the follow-up penalty corner when she somehow blocked a corner deflected from Sally Campbell.
The equaliser for Pembroke arrived in the third quarter when Pembroke’s press swallowed up the Alex midfield, turning over ball on the 23m line. Ellen Curran slipped the ball right to Pinder who flicked across goal with a defensive intervention turning the ball in.
While Pembroke had slightly more of the ball, Alex were the ones who had the chances down the closing stretch with Evans hitting the side-netting from a corner move while two further penalty corners were blocked down in the last five minutes.
Belfast Harlequins 1 (J Watt) UCD 3 (A Naughton R Kelly, E Paul)
UCD kept up their push for a playoff place as they won well at Deramore Park, putting 10 points between them and their Saturday hosts.
The students started the livelier, forcing a corner in the first three minutes which was eventually cleared. Harlequins sustained the early pressure and started to ease up the pitch but an unfortunate slip in midfield allowed a ball through to the danger zone and Aine Naughton scored on her reverse. Although the play evened out, UCD found Michelle Carey in space on the right and she used her considerable pace to get to the byline and cross to Rachel Kelly at the left post for their second of the game.
Quarter 2 was a more even affair with some exciting hockey. Belfast Harlequins had their best chance to score from a corner but the UCD keeper made a fine save. Likewise, Q3 was honours even with not much circle penetration for either team but nonetheless entertaining hockey.
It heated up in the final quarter with Quins going down to 10 players but still found some slick two-touch hockey to get on the scoreboard as Sophie Hunter drove into the circle and made a crucial pass to Jenna Watt on the left. Watt made no mistake with the goal: 2-1.
Quins continued to press but a debated penalty corner for UCD, along with a yellow card for Natalie Lyttle, proved definitive. Emma Paul’s shot from that set piece took a deflection to kill off the result and a further yellow for the hosts stymied any hopes of a late charge.
Pegasus 0 Loreto 4 (H Matthews, S O’Brien, G Donald, S Torrans)
Erratic Loreto ran up a big win away to Pegasus, putting a dent in the Ulster side’s title hopes while giving their chances of a playoff place an extra pep in its step.
After a scoreless first half, Olympian Hannah Matthews broke the deadlock in the third quarter and they spun out into a 3-0 advantage courtesy of Siofra O’Brien and Grace Donald.
Pegs withdrew their goalkeeper Megan Todd for an extra outfielder for parts of the fourth quarter in a concerted bid to try and grab something from the game but it backfired with Sarah Torrans scoring into an open net. The defeat sees Pegasus drop into fourth place.
Railway Union 2 (L Lloyd, E Smyth) Muckross 0
Railway spent much of the first half on the front foot with Muckross’s defence called on to make a series of important blocks with Aoife Glennon busy in goal while Julia Balcerzak and Ella Malone clearing up off the pads.
The first goal came on the half-hour as Sarah Hawkshaw cut in from the right wing and laid on a perfect slide-rule pass to set Lily Lloyd free. She dummied right to creat a narrower angle but, crucially, an extra sliver of space to flick home from close to the baseline at the near post.
The pattern was a similar one in the second half with Railway pushing on and Muckross defending feverishly with Hawkshaw’s pump at goal well blocked by Glennon. Lily Lloyd picked out her older sister Kate in behind the last defender for another great chance but she was unable to connect with her reverse-stick effort.
But the vital second goal arrived in the 51st minute when Niamh Shaw, Lily Lloyd and Ailish Long combined down the left channel, getting the ball into the middle where Emma Smyth swept home.
Catholic Institute 6 (N Carroll 2, A Horan, R Upton, A Hickey, E Ryan) Cork Harlequins 1 (L O’Shea)
Catholic Institute closed the Saturday night gap to one point in the women’s EYHL with their fifth successive win. They did fall behind in the first 10 minutes when Leah O’Shea as the bottom side dreamt of a shock result.
But Insta were firing in the second quarter when Olympic duo Róisín Upton and Naomi Carroll combined, the latter finishing off to make it 1-1. Anna Horan put the Limerick side in front for the first time when she dragged in a penalty corner before half-time and Upton matched that feat on the other side of the break.
Aoife Hickey extended the lead to 4-1 and Upton’s hit was turned in by Elizabeth Ryan for another one. Carroll closed out the scoring for a comprehensive win.