Cookstown ensured their place in the EY Hockey League playoff as they struck twice on the counterattack in the closing quarter to beat Three Rock Rovers.
The Reds rode their luck, surviving two open goal chances, a ball off the post and five penalty corners, but they finally got the rub of the green which has evaded them for much of the season.
The first of Three Rock’s chances came barely a minute into the tie as the ball was worked down the right but Conor Empey was unable to turn home from close range. From there, the tie settled into a low-key affair with Rovers in control of the first quarter before Cookstown had the better of the second phase, especially when Luke Chadwick was in the sin bin with a yellow card. Greg Allen’s rasper drew the best from Jamie Carr.
The second half had a bit more bite to it with Rovers regaining the initiative. Ian Hughes has put in a series of stunning performances in goal this year and he was again called upon during this match to make a number of top stops at close quarters.
In the third quarter Luke Madeley’s drag flick thudded off the inside of the post and away to safety to keep the Reds in the tie.
Cookstown went in front moments into the final quarter when Greg Allen showed a nice piece of skill down the left to get away from his marker before taking off. With Rovers shy numbers, he picked out Simon Todd who finished into an open net.
Rovers pushed on, trying to get the point they needed to press for a Champions’ Trophy place, but the finishing touch – without Peter Blakeney’s killer instinct – was lacking as Ross Canning’s effort rolled along the goal line allowing Hughes to tip the ball away for another corner.
In an effort to gain the upper hand, the home side substituted their goalkeeper to give them an extra outfield player. It almost cost them dearly but Jon Ames missed a gilt-edged chance to extend Cookstown’s lead.
The Reds didn’t have to wait long to secure their victory. A minute later, and with only two minutes left, the excellent Greg Allen picked up the ball just outside the circle and did very well to drag his shot into Three Rock’s gaping goal.
The result meant that Rovers ended the season in sixth place, just outside the Championship Trophy places.
Annadale’s 6-3 loss to Monkstown meant that Cookstown would have avoided bottom spot in any event, but still had to hold on until Sunday to see if they could claim eighth place and so avoid the relegation playoffs.
The Reds required Monkstown to have a big victory over Cork Church of Ireland and so allow them to jump ahead of the Munster men on goal difference. It did not, however, come to pass with Cork winning the game at Garryduff by 3-1.
Pembroke claimed the last remaining men’s EYHL Champions’ Trophy place, jumping ahead of Glenanne on the final day of the regular season.