Loreto face uphill IHL battle

Reigning champions Loreto will hope to resurrect their IHL hopes in on Sunday after no wins from their first two games this time out. It comes in stark contrast to their league form which has been untouchable to date with the attacking guile of Nikki Keegan, Niamh Small and Nikki Symmons dovetailing perfectly with Nicci Daly, Ali Meeke and Cathy McKean.

However, in the premier competition, a stodgy draw with Alex and a loss in Belfast to Pegasus – never an easy place to go – has left the Beaufort club languishing in fifth.

Consolation, though, comes courtesy of the tournament’s scoring system which leaves them just three points off first place in Pool B despite being winless.

As such, a win against visting Randalstown – the other side yet to register a win in the group – on Sunday will see Loreto jump at least a place and possibly even into the top two. Vanessa Surgeoner is the main threat while Katherine Elkin also has international qualities.

Fellow 2009 finalists Hermes are also playing catch-up, currently in fourth place, and hoping for Dublin derby honours to promote their charge to the semi-finals.

They face a developing Alex side who are unbeaten in their maiden IHL voyage but, interestingly, have yet to win at home this season.

But hosting a first ever IHL game should be a motivating factor and they do not have to worry about the attacking skills of Alexandra College schoolgirl Deirdre Duke who is absent from the Hermes’ line-up, as is Chloe Watkins through injury.

Pegasus, meanwhile, face the long trip to Cork to face UCC. With the Mardyke severely damaged in last week’s floods in Cork, the students will now host their tie on higher ground at Garryduff.
Any two from five are still very much in the reckoning for a semi-final place from Pool B.

By contrast, in Pool A Railway Union have blitzed their opening games in this year’s competition and could move within touching distance of a last four berth.

Their fast, flowing game is perfectly suited for the more up-tempo nature of IHL action, aided by their use of a ball patrol at all home Leinster league games.

Ballymoney, though, is always a tricky trip and if their sand-based pitch slows up the breaks of Emma Smyth and Jean McDonnell as it did in Ards last week, then it could require a patient game. Newcomer Claire McGarity, though, showed her willingness for a battle in midweek against Corinthian.

They face an Ulster side that struggled for form early this season but a 5-1 win over Armagh and last Saturday’s epic against Pegasus in the Irish Senior Cup suggest the likes of Bridget Cleland and Lynsey McVicker are still a force to be reckoned with.

Zara Delany is still on the injured list for Railway while Nikki Evans is also still short of fitness but both are back in training.

Second plays third in Farmer’s Cross, also on Saturday, as Cork Harlequins aim to leap-frog Pembroke in the battle for the second semi-final place.

The visitors continue to be without Aoife Sherriff, this time as she is on honeymoon, but the five teenagers are continuing to grow into Pembroke’s panel, making them tough to beat against quality opposition.

It could yet be a defining match in the semi-final pursuit though Ballymoney are waiting in the wings after two draws to date. Sunday’s Pool A game sees the bottom two, Ards and Cork C of I lock horns.

Meanwhile, four Leinster league matches are up for decision over the weekend with both student teams Trinity and UCD with the latter completing their pre-Christmas league programme with a double-header.

Should the Belfielders win their games over Bray (Saturday) and Corinthian (Sunday), they would be catapulted into a tie for first place with Loreto and Railway albeit with three extra fixtures completed.

In the Irish Hockey Trophy, five last 16 ties are up for decision. Clontarf are on the road to 2009 finalists Catholic Institute while Diocesan travel south to face Wexford in Enniscorthy.

ESB Women’s Irish Hockey League:
Pool A:
Saturday: Ballymoney vs Railway Union, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; Cork Harlequins vs Pembroke, 4pm, Farmer’s Cross
Sunday: Ards vs Cork C of I, 1pm, CIYMS

Pool B
Saturday: Old Alex vs Hermes, 2.45pm, Alexandra College; UCC vs Pegasus, 12.30pm, Garryduff
Sunday: Loreto vs Randalstown, 3pm, Beaufort

Women’s Division One:
Saturday: Trinity vs Glenanne, 12pm, Santry; UCD vs Bray, 1pm, Belfield
Sunday: Glenanne vs Hermes, 1.30pm, St Mark’s; Corinthian vs UCD, 12.30pm, Whitechurch

Irish Hockey Trophy – Round Three (all Saturday):
Ashton vs Greenisland, 2.45pm, Ashton School; Galway vs Bandon, 12pm, Dangan; Catholic Institute vs Clontarf, 1.30pm, Rosbrien; Wexford vs Diocesan, 1.30pm, Enniscorthy; Carrickfergus vs Portadown, 1pm, Carrickfergus

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