Zara Malseed shone as Ards won promotion and the EY Hockey League Division 2 title in style at Whitechurch Park over the weekend, netting three times for the Oranges.
On Saturday, she cracked home a vital penalty corner hit to level their semi-final against Queen’s University, canceling out Madison Bowyer’s early effort.
Ellen Robinson popped up with the winner in the third quarter for a 2-1 win, a result which guaranteed them promotion along with Monkstown who were 3-1 victors over Corinthian.
Those victories mean they will replace Muckross and Cork Harlequins in the top division and meant Sunday’s final encounter could provide an extra bonus for clubs who has also won their respective provincial leagues this term.
Ards got off to a flyer with Malseed thumping in from the top of the circle twice within minutes of each other for a 2-0 lead.
Fellow Olympian Chloe Watkins cut the gap in half when she jinked one way and then back onto her open side with a quality shot but Ali Carson put Ards two clear at half-time, making it 3-1.
Monkstown were right back in the mix when a Watkins backhand shot was guided in at the right post by Sophie Moore, setting up a grandstand finish.
But the Ulster side held firm to take the gold medals and a breathless Malseed said it was a perfect end to a long season.
“It was a tough day, physically taking its toll as you can hear!” she said with a grin.
“Yesterday was the final we were building toward all season so anything after that was an enjoyable moment.
We came out knowing this was going to be a great game, knowing they have performed consistently all season.
We started off going two up and surprised ourselves a bit! From there, it was about trying to keep the foot on the pedal to the end.
“With last season a write-off, this seems like a long-time coming and we have building toward this for a while. We’ll definitely celebrate tonight!”
Women’s EYHL Division 2, semi-final: Monkstown 3 (A O’Flanagan 2, C O’Reilly) Corinthian 1 (L McGrane); Ards 2 (Z Malseed, E Robinson) Queen’s 1 (M Bowyer) Final: Monkstown 2 (C Watkins, S Moore) Ards 3 (Z Malseed 2, A Carson)