Leinster ladies' eyes on ISC final four

Crunch time in the ESB Irish Senior Cup as Leinster’s leading ladies seek to keep the trophy in the capital for a second successive year with the tournament already reaching the business end.

Ireland’s World Cup qualifier has seen the women’s ISC and IHL matches moved to much earlier dates this season and the confirmation of April 24 to May 2 for 2010’s key tournament means there will have to be a rejig of dates. The ISC semi and final stages and IHL round five are definitely affected while IHL round four could also be relocated in the likelihood Gene Muller will pull his players away for international training camps the week before the WCQ in Chile.

Back to the action, this weekend, all four ties offer something to savour. Pembroke beat Loreto last time the pair locked horns at Beaufort and their sporadic form means anything could happen. The Serpentine Avenue club, though, have saved their best form for encounters with the top teams – unbeaten in the IHL and an away league draw with Hermes.

If Natalie Fulton can channel that energy and Karen Hales carry the fight into this cup game, the Beaufort side could be in for a serious battle. Loreto, by contrast, have struggled outside of the league but have oodles have quality to bounce back.

Railway, meanwhile, have a tough trip to north where they face Ulster pace-setters Ards who have notched recent league victories over Ballymoney and Randalstown to establish their territory in the top-tier.

Katy Fraser is a powerful foe and if her side can get their corner-routine going – they left nine slip in last week’s IHL – they could be a handful for Mick McKinnon’s team. Their 4-1 win over the same opposition in October, however, is the perfect confidence booster for the Leinster champions and a defensive unit guided by Helen Stevenson, Holly Jenkinson and Emer Lucey is always going to keep things tight at the back – a key component on away days.

Holders UCD face 2000 winners Cork Harlequins at Belfield and are the last remaining non-IHL club in the contest. Such status may prove a help, especially at this time of year with impending exam weeks colliding with round three of the top competition.

Primary focus, therefore, will be given to this game. Kerry McComish has been a huge influence at the back, a more than capable replacement for the afore-mentioned Jenkinson, working in tandem with Megan Tennant-Humphreys. Fiona Braddish will hope her scoring run continues into her last month before travelling.

Harlequins, though, carry the Munster flag and will hope Rachel Kohler and Karen Bateman’s experience can out-wit the students.

At the Joey Dunlop centre, Ballymoney play Pegasus play each other in a repeat of last season’s semi-final. Pegs used home advantage to prosper that day 2-1 but Lynsey McVicker’s Ballymoney have since struggled in Ulster action with just one win from four and yet to register a maximum in the IHL.

The Dunlop centre is usually a fortress, though, where plenty of dreams have been shattered.

In the Leinster league, just one match survives the cull. Hermes play Bray on Saturday as they endeavour to close the gap on the top two.

ESB Irish Senior Cup, quarter-finals (Saturday):
Loreto v Pembroke Wanderers, 2.15pm, Beaufort; UCD v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Belfield; Ballymoney v Pegasus, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; Ards v Railway Union, 2.45pm, Ards Leisure Centre

Women’s Division One (Saturday):
Hermes v Bray, 1.15pm, St Andrews

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