Queen's agony but second bite at promotion awaits
As things stand, Ulster will have just two sides in the EY Irish Hockey League next season following Ards' relegation on Saturday.
However, equilibrium could be restored in six days time when Queen's face Muckross in a play-off in Banbridge, needing a win to go up.
Yesterday, the students were unable to secure a place in the top flight at the first time of asking following an agonising 3-2 shoot-out defeat to Catholic Institute after a 3-3 draw in the IHL 2 final in Dublin, meaning the Limerick side take their place at the top table for the first time.
Queen's led 2-0 early on after goals from Erin Getty and Alyssa Jebb but Institute drew level through Roisin Upton and Laura Foley strikes on either side of the break.
Koren Ferguson made it 3-2 with ten minutes left before Ireland World Cup silver medallist Upton equalised two minutes later to force the shoot-out in which she scored twice after the teams had been level at 2-2 following the first five attempts.
Ards' relegation fate was sealed with a 2-1 away loss to Cork Harlequins on Saturday as the Down side lost their place in the national league for the first time under the new expanded format.
The Ulster side made a poor start, Michelle Barry setting up Olivia Roycroft, who broke the deadlock after only two minutes.
Harlequins doubled their lead two minutes after the break when Ireland World Cup star Yvonne O'Byrne beat Ards keeper Naomi McKnight.
Amy Benson pulled one back 10 minutes later but Ards were unable to add to their tally despite concerted pressure as the Cork defence stood firm.
Harlequins' victory earned them the final spot in next weekend's top four play-offs in Banbridge in which they will face regulation season champions Pegasus in the semi-finals.
On Saturday, Pegasus came back from 2-0 down to force a 3-3 draw with Belfast Harlequins in an exciting contest at Deramore.
Gemma Frazer and Rachel Johnston scored a goal at the start of each half to put Quins in the driving seat.
Pegasus fought back to lead 3-2 with third quarter goals from Kate Millar, Caitlyn Harvey and Claire McKane, two of them gifted by the home defence.
But Zoe Wilson rescued Quins a deserved point when she fired home a brilliant backhand shot from the edge of the circle with 11 minutes left.
Yesterday: IHL 2 final: Catholic Institute 3 (R Upton 2, L Foley) Queen's 3 (E Getty, A Jebb, K Ferguson) Institute won 3-2 on penalty runs.
Saturday: EY Irish Hockey League: Belfast Harlequins 3 (G Frazer, R Johnston) Pegasus 3 (K Millar, C Harvey, C McKane); Cork Harlequins 2 (O Roycroft, Y O'Byrne) Ards 1 (A Benson); Muckross 1 (Y Pratt) UCD 1 (S Patton); Old Alex 3 (A Connery 3) Pembroke 3 (C Foley 2, G Pinder)
IHL 2 semi-finals: Queen's 1 (J McMaster) Monkstown 0; Catholic Institute 3 Trinity 2