The Women's IHL runners and riders

IHL 2009/10 Groups:
Pool A: Railway Union, Ballymoney, Ards, Pembroke, Cork Harlequins, Cork C of I
Pool B: Pegasus, Hermes, Loreto, Randalstown, UCC, Old Alex

Pool A
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: First appearance
Qualified as: 3rd in Ulster
The lowdown: Losses to Lisnagarvey and Armagh in the past fortnight is not the ideal build-up to a tie for a tournament baptism at Park Avenue. Their next two games will be key – hosting Ballymoney and Cork C of I – if their interest in the play-offs is to continue into the New Year.

Last Year: 3rd Pool B
IHL Record: Pl 5 W2 D2 L1 GF 12 GA 7
Qualification as: 2nd in Ulster
The lowdown: Denied a semi-final spot by Eimear Cregan’s stunning last gasp goal against Armagh which gave Harlequins the crucial bonus point. Until five minutes to go, they occupied the play-off spot. Revenge will be on their mind in round four in April. Teams rarely come away from the Joey Dunlop Centre with a full set of points and so three home games is a major boost. Their away trips, to Ards and C of I, are very winnable making ’Money a very good bet for a semi-final place this time out.

Cork C of I
Last Year: 4th Pool A
IHL Record: Pl 5 W1 D0 L4 GF 4 GA 14
Qualification as: 2nd in IHL play-offs; 3rd in Munster
The lowdown: Very much Pool A outsiders with the loss of Deirdre Casey and Michaela Mihailou while one former Railway Union Kenefick sister is swapped for another as Cathy returns from her travels while Jenny moves to Canada. They begin with three away trips and will certainly need something from trips to Ards and Pembroke to have any hope in the New Year.

Cork Harlequins
Last Year: semi-finalists, lost to Loreto 2-0
IHL Record: Pl 6 W3 D1 L2 GF 9 GA 8
Qualification as: Munster champions
The lowdown: Despite three home games as Munster champions, their away trips to Railway and Ballymoney mean a repeat semi-final looks a tough proposition. Rachael Kohler, Cliona O’Connor, Jane Chapple and Jan Dillon’s absence will also be felt. Six new additions, though, including Sinead McCarthy – from Poynton in England – balance the books. McCarthy looks very much the real deal while youngsters Yvonne O’Byrne and Acacia Taylor are progressing.

Pembroke Wanderers
Last Year: 5th Pool B
IHL Record: Pl 5 W1 D0 L4 GF 5 GA 10
Qualification as: 4th in Leinster
The lowdown: An early win over Armagh failed to spark a concerted charge for the play-offs. This year, long trips to Ballymoney and Harlequins and a short hop to Sandymount rivals Railway Union make this a daunting group but if Olympian Natalie Fulton can galvanise her side with an increased playing presence, Pembroke can cause a few problems. They need to get goals, though, from alternative sources, though, now Louisa Moore has left these shores.

Railway Union
Last Year: 3rd Pool A
IHL Record: Pl 5 W3 D1 L1 GF 13 GA 6
Qualification as: Leinster champions
The lowdown: Denied a semi-final place by a bonus point, their tussles with Pegasus and Loreto were the highlights of the group stages in 08/09. A Leinster league win has the reward of an easier group on paper this time around and a strengthened squad are likely to give the IHL a serious punt this year. Ballymoney is a tricky trip while Harlequins cannot be discounted but their considerable fire-power could see a few bonus point wins to help progression.

Pool B
Last Year: Runners-up, lost 2-1 on penalty shoot-out to Loreto
IHL Record: Pl 7 W5 D2 L0 GF 16 GA 5*
Qualification as: 3rd in Leinster

The lowdown: Very much ‘group of death’ territory here with three of last year’s semi-finalists duking it out. Their first IHL match under Simon Filgas is an absolute belter; Pegasus at UCD is usually reserved for All-Ireland final’s day, not mid-October could well be a defining moment. Preseason assertions that Linda Caulfield would rest up until Christmas may be on hold as she lined out against Trinity and her involvement along with the returning Fiona Connery will be key. Just one of three away trips – Randalstown – is outside the capital.

Last Year: Champions
IHL Record: P7 W5 D2 L0 GF 21 GA 9*
Qualification as: 2nd in Leinster
The lowdown: The reigning champions have drawn the short straw in having to travel to Pegasus in November and will also need to find the goals to replace the departed Zara Delany – last season’s top scorer despite missing the play-offs with her current injury. Nonetheless, the squad is still on the formidable side. Pitfalls abound in their group with a tricky trip to the unfamiliar surrounds of the Mardyke and local derbies with Hermes and Old Alex. But they conquered the tougher group last time out and have the confidence to do so again.

Old Alex
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: First appearance
Qualification as: IHL Playoff winners; 5th in Leinster
The lowdown: The changing of the guard at Alex and just one competitive game to date – a 3-0 loss to Railway – makes this a very tough debut IHL season. A trip to the champions, Loreto, in week one followed by a Randalstown away day is a far from ideal start. They bossed the play-off last year and will hope to bring confidence from that success into the competition and if they can salvage some early points, the abundance of youth in Miles Warren and Ivan Ovington’s squad could grow as the tournament develops.

Last Year: Semi-finalists, lost 4-1 to Hermes
IHL Record: Pl 6 W4 D0 L2 GF16 GA12
Qualification as: Ulster champions
The lowdown: Whether what happened to Pegasus at the business end of last season is a terminal decline or a blip will likely be determined in this season’s IHL. Indeed, the reckoning comes sooner rather than later with a trip to Hermes before they host Loreto in round two. A glut of former international talent remains and Shelley Sloan is back from a year in the capital. Belgian-based Alex Speers is their big loss. The scars of UCD and Hermes’ big wins may still remain but if they can lay one of those demons to rest on Sunday then they can be a very dangerous proposition. They finish with two very winnable home games so even in a couple of draws would suit them fine in the early stages.

Last Year: 6th Pool A
IHL Record: Pl5 W0 D1 L4 GF 10 GA 19
Qualification as: 4th in Ulster
The lowdown: A winless debut IHL season for Randalstown and the worst defense in the competition last time round suggest they
may struggle again in such a high quality grouping and they will need Vanessa Surgeonor and Rebecca Dallas to be on form to dispel such thoughts. They start with a long road-trip to UCC for a crucial tie for both sides. A win there followed by a home tie with Alex would see them in good shape before the big three come out to play. Anything less and it could be a very hard slog.

Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: First appearance
Qualification as: Munster runners-up
The lowdown: The regular turnover of players in student clubs did not materialise and the retention of Audrey O’Flynn and Julia O’Halloran gives UCC some international clout. They will need it with the group’s big three lying in wait after Randalstown this weekend, making this an exceptionally tough debut year. A play-off for the Munster title last season suggests they have the ability to get by Alex and Randalstown but breaking into the play-offs will be a tall order, especially with Hollie Moffett now residing in England.

*Shoot-out counted as draw

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