The Ulster Elks are flying high at the top of the EY Irish Hockey League after making it two wins out of two on Saturday with a 3-1 success over Harlequins in Cork.
They are joined by Hermes, who were 5-1 winners over Ards, and Railway Union at the summit although the two Dublin sides are marginally ahead of goal difference.
It’s a different story for the Elks’ local rivals as defending champions Pegasus and Ards have just a point to their name after the former went down 2-1 to Pembroke Wanderers at Upper Malone.
The Elks had lost 2-1 in the corresponding game last season so revenge was sweet in the rematch as Ricky Lee’s side seldom looked back after scoring twice in the opening five minutes.
“I couldn’t be happier with coming away from Cork with all three points although admittedly they weren’t at their strongest with (Irish international) Cliodhna Sargent being the most notable absentee.” said the Elks coach.
“Having said that neither were we, plus having a 600-mile round trip, having an overnight stay and playing on an unfamiliar sand-based pitch immediately puts visiting sides at a disadvantage.
“We started really well, racing into a two goal lead but Quins fought back and made life difficult for us up to the half time break, getting a goal back and I wondered if the journey was taking its toll on us.
“However I’m really proud of how the players reacted after half time when they stepped up a gear and worked hard to see out the game.”
The Elks made a superb start that saw them score within two minutes as a quickly taken free from Megan Frazer saw her drive into the circle and finish on her reverse.
Rebecca Barry doubled the visitors’ lead three minutes later from the first penalty corner of the game, deflecting the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0.
Quins bounced back in the second quarter and got their reward from Orlagh Cotter kept her composure to wrong foot the Elks’ goalkeeper, Rebecca Davidson, to pull one back.
That put the game back in the balance but the Elks weathered the breeze and countered brilliantly to restore their two goal advantage, Laura McAlpine lashing the ball home after Frazer’s shot had come off the post.
However the scenario was more gloomy for Pegasus after two goals in the last 12 minutes undid them against Pembroke in an entertaining contest in Belfast.
The Dublin side performed much better than they had in losing to the Elks seven days earlier and they made the most of their chances.
Pegasus disputed the decision to award the penalty corner that ultimately won the game for them but team captain Alex Speers declined to point the finger at the officials.
“We are very disappointed at losing our first home game and to lose it at set pieces makes it even more so.” said the former Ireland captain.
“At the corner, I saw a lot of bodies and a lot of sticks but both umpires agreed (on the decision) so we have to live with that. Decisions cost games and that’s for both sides.
“Pembroke are a good side as we knew from playing them played them in the Irish Cup last year.
“We kind of knew what to expect and in that game we came from a goal down to beat them 2-1.
“They were very composed, a good hockey team, well drilled and they do the basics well and today that was enough for them to win the game.”
Pegasus keeper Sammy Jo Greer pulled off a fine diving save from Erika Hinson in the first quarter and then Ruth Maguire’s shot hit the post at the other end as play swung from end to end.
Six minutes after the restart Suzanne Beaney’s effort came off the woodwork but Pegasus broke the deadlock in the 42nd minute when Hannah Grieve slammed in a set-piece after a well-rehearsed move.
But six minutes later, Sarah Clarke hammered in the equaliser and Eanna Horan converted that disputed set-piece with three minutes left.
Chloe Brown scored an equaliser for Ards against Hermes but they ran out comfortable winners adding four more goals to make it two victories on the bounce.
“I thought we competed well for large parts of the game but they punished us for some lapses in concentration,” said Ards manager Phil Mills.