The journey to EY Hockey League promotion and Division 2 glory reaches its final destination this weekend at Whitechurch Park with eight hopefuls battling it out for glory.
The host club made it through to the final four with a hugely impressive 5-0 home win over Cork C of I last weekend with Jessica McGrane scoring twice, adding to goals from Christina Seggie, Ciara Vincent and Lauren McGrane.
They will be hoping to delight the home crowd when they meet at 3pm on Saturday afternoon in their semi-final which doubles as a direct battle for one of the two promotion spots on offer.
Standing in their way are Monkstown who have been in imperious form this season, winning the Leinster League Division One and topping their group with eight wins out of eight.
They have only lost one match across the Leinster league and EY Division 2. That was, however, their most recent one when – with the title in the bag – Corinthian were good value for a 3-2 success.
It ups the ante for this showdown and both sides are packed with goals. The McGranes between them have already accounted for over 30 goal between them for the reds while Town’s Olympians Chloe Watkins and Anna O’Flanagan, dovetailing with Emily Kealy, Sophie Moore and Olivia Brady, have helped the club score over 130 times this campaign.
The other women’s promotion place will be determined from an all-Ulster clash with Premier League champions Ards coming up against Queen’s in the fourth game on Saturday afternoon (5pm).
Queen’s have quite a gap to Ards in their regional division – with plenty of games to catch up on – but they have shown in recent weeks their intent, running up high scores and clean sheets against Lurgan (4-0), Cork C of I (5-0) and UCC (5-0 in the quarter-final) to reach this stage.
A factor has been Zoe Wilson’s introduction. She joined the club in the middle of her recuperation from an ACL injury and has finally got to make her debut in recent times. The World Cup silver medalists has cracked home three goals in EYHL2 games already and, along with Erin Getty and Jessica McMaster, brings crucial know-how to the table.
Ards, meanwhile, progressed through their group stage unbeaten with seven wins in succession, adding to an opening day draw, with 28 goals along the way while they only faltered once in their regional league.
Olympian Zara Malseed is one of the most ruthless forwards around and there is a mixture of youth and indoor international experience in their line-up with Amy Benson, Katie Kimber, Alanah Doyle and Caroline Adams all donning the green at different points.
The men’s semi-finals begin the day’s action with another pair of enticing showdowns between Ulster and Leinster rivals.
In the quarter-finals, Instonians eased to a 5-1 victory over Bandon with Olympians Mark Gleghorne and Mikie Watt accounting for the first three of the goals to set them up for a date with Railway Union.
It is a renewal of their group stage rivalry with both sides winning a game each by a single goal to date. The Dubliners lost their unbeaten record on the final day of the Leinster league season when they fell to Avoca 3-2 last Saturday.
Nonetheless, it was enough to win the league crown ahead of the Blackrock side on head-to-head meetings, winning their first Leinster encounter 7-1. Railway backed that up with a Neville Cup final win on Sunday against YMCA and now go in search of more honours.
Theirs is a team built on vast experience with Kenny Carroll, Rob Abbott, Fergal Keaveney, Karl Chapple, Rob Devlin, Richie Forrest, Stephen O’Keeffe, David McCarthy and Mark English all around from their Irish Senior Cup final run of 2012. English has amassed over 80 goals this campaign in all competitions.
Inst, meanwhile, have lots of knowledge to draw on with captain Stephen Kelso, Chris Kirk, Ben Palmer, Andrew Corry and William Robinson all part of their side during their last campaign in the top tier.
The Shaw’s Bridge club are in a straight shoot-out with Cookstown, the other Ulster side involved in this weekend’s playoffs, as they go up against Clontarf at 12.30pm.
Both Inst and the Co Tyrone side are unbeaten in the Ulster Premier, drawing with each other, to show their strength with Cookstown putting it up to EYHL sides in the Irish Senior Cup, knocking out Pembroke and pushing Monkstown to the wire in the semi-finals.
They have a wealth of young talents coming through in Max Anderson, Jack Haycock, Ewan Cruickshank, Josh Anderson and Mark Cuddy, guided by old hands Ewan Butler, Mark Crooks and Paul Thompson.
Clontarf made it through a quarter-final thriller against Cork Harlequins last Saturday. They looked on course for a comfortable day out when Sam Grace scored a pair of goals but Jamie Venner nabbed one back and a Jack O’Meara equaliser sent the game to shoot-out – after a heavily debated David Vincent effort was ruled out.
The Bulls prevailed with Timmy Cullen slotting their winner. John Mullins is a key presence having won a series of all-Ireland titles during his stint with Three Rock Rovers with captain David Power a strong influence in the spine of the side.
They are the only side in the final four yet to play in the top tier and so will be regarded as outsiders with a side filled with products of the Mount Temple school.
Each of Saturday’s winners will earn promotion along with a place in Sunday’s final where the EY Division 2 titles will be presented.
Adult tickets for each day are available on the gate for €10 with schoolchildren tickets €5.
EY Division 2 finals weekend (all at Whitechurch Park)
Saturday 9th April 2022
Semi-finals: Railway Union v Instonians, 10.30am; Cookstown v Clontarf, 12.30pm
Semi-finals: Monkstown v Corinthian, 3pm; Ards v Queen’s, 5pm
Sunday 10th April 2022
Men’s final: 1pm
Women’s final: 3.30pm