Ulster will have five clubs in the top tier of the men’s EY Hockey League next season with Instonians and Cookstown both landing promotion at Whitechurch Park.
Inst won their EYHL Division 2 semi-final against Leinster champions Railway Union 4-2 to earn their promotion.
They were good value for it as they had most of the play in the first half with Mikie Watt getting them in front and it could have been more but for the goalkeeping of Stephen O’Keeffe.
The prolific Mark English – who scored 50 times in the Leinster league campaign – equalised early in the second half but Ben Rose restored the Belfast side’s lead in the 51st minute.
And they never looked back as skipper Stephen Kelso put extra daylight between the sides at 3-1 and, with Railway withdrawing their goalkeeper for an extra outfielder, James Palmer cashed in for a fourth.
Karl Chapple nicked one back but Inst were well clear and are back in the top division for the first time since 2017.
Cookstown, meanwhile, were taken all the way by Clontarf in a shoot-out with Josh McCabe excelling. The Co Tyrone side looked good in the first half and they took the lead via Jack Haycock’s penalty corner drag-flick in the second quarter.
But the Dubliners came back strong and got level with just two minutes to go from former Irish under-21 captain Sam Grace with a corner bullet of his own.
That sent it to the shoot-out where Cookstown did not miss with Ryan Millar, Mark Crooks and Greg Allen all scoring. McCabe, meanwhile, kept out the first two and then stood up brilliantly to make three interventions to block Alan O’Malley’s path to goal, the save leading to a 3-1 victory.
Cookstown and Instonians will meet on Sunday for the league title with the game getting underway at 1pm in Rathfarnham.
Banbridge, meanwhile, will get to host their own EY Champions Trophy finals weekend party having got through their quarter-final date against YMCA, 4-2 at Havelock Park.
YM had only picked up one point this term against the top five in the EYHL regular season but this new format gave them a wildcard shot at a semi-final and they were determined to take the opportunity.
Peabo Lembethe’s penalty corner rebound gave the Y a lead in the second quarter and it was level at 2-2 in the closing stages of the third quarter when Grant Glutz countered home goals from Peter Brown and Jonny McKee.
But youngsters Charlie Rowe and Matthew McKee turned the game Bann’s way in the last 20 minutes to hand Bann a semi-final spot where they will be up against Three Rock Rovers.
Lisnagarvey, meanwhile, will meet Monkstown after the latter made it through in a shoot-out against Glenanne. Normal time ended 2-2 with Rowland Rixon-Fuller snatching a draw for the Glens but a perfect Town shoot-out saw them win out 3-0 and advance to the final four.
EYHL Division 1 – Quarter-Finals: Banbridge 4 (Pe Brown, J McKee, C Rowe, M McKee) YMCA 2 (P Lembethe, G Glutz); Glenanne 2 (S O’Connor, R Rixon-Fuller) Monkstown 2 (D Nolan, J Henry), Monkstown win shoot-out 3-0
EYHL2 play-offs, semi-finals: Railway Union 2 (M English, K Chapple) Instonians 4 (M Watt, B Rose, S Kelso, J Palmer); Cookstown 1 (J Haycock) Clontarf 1 (S Grace), Cookstown win shoot-out 3-1
EYHL2 final: Cookstown v Instonians, Whitechurch Park, 1pm