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Speers to miss Ireland's bid for Champions Challenge glory

Ireland women's hockey captain Alex Speers has been ruled out of Ireland's Champions Challenge squad which will travel to Glasgow later this month.

The Ulster woman, who plays for Railway Union, has examination commitments and has reluctantly been forced to withdraw from the panel which will be announced later today.

It's a blow for national coach Darren Smith who is also likely to be without Ireland's most capped player Nikki Symmons for similar reasons.

The New Zealander was at Banbridge over the weekend where he watched UCD defeat Railway Union 2-1 on penalties in the IHL final yesterday after a 1-1 draw.

Former Ballymoney striker Katie Mullan put UCD ahead in the first period before Kate Dillon equalised in the final quarter.

In Saturday's semi-finals Railway defeated Pegasus 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out, dashing hopes that the Ulster champions would sneak into Europe through the back door.

Because UCD were already guaranteed a place in the Cup Winners' Cup, the other finalist would have taken their place.

Pegasus coach Michelle Rainey revealed that her team misunderstood the procedure for the penalty shoot-out which was conducted in ice hockey-style, an attacker taking on the goalkeeper in a one-on-one.

"It was our own fault as we understood that after the first five we had to take another five rather than go to sudden death," she admitted.

"As a consequence we thought that the players had to take the penalties in the same order as the first phase whereas we could have mixed them up.

"But we have nobody to blame but ourselves and, in any case, it might not have made any difference to the outcome."

Otherwise the Pegasus coach was delighted with her team's performance.

Railway are regarded as one of the top two sides in the country and Pegasus more than matched them for parts of the game.

"It proves that we are not too far away and I couldn't fault the girls for their performance against such opposition who made it difficult by breaking down play frequently," she added.

"Reaching the semi-finals was always our target but to have come so close to reaching the final was disappointing obviously although it gives us hope for the future.

"Overall we can be very satisfied with the way we are progressing."

Former Pegasus player Speers gave Railway the lead on 43 minutes but Vanessa Surgeoner hammered in the equaliser from a penalty corner five minutes later.

Belfast Telegraph