As top of the table clashes go, few could be set up better than Railway Union’s tie with Loreto for what could be the league season’s highest quality game.
Two 100pc records, two impeccable defensive records and the two most exciting attacking forces in Leinster showdown with the head seat at the Christmas table up for grabs.
Gene Muller’s Irish squad announcement served as a reminder that numerous players will be unavailable post-Christmas. No restrictions have been imposed to take players out of the domestic leagues as in previous years but the volume of training camps and World Cup Qualifier build-up fixtures means that it will be rare that both sides will have a full deck to pick from in the New Year.
A week-long training camp in Spain, a test series against Belgium and, most significantly, the Celtic Cup in Nice from March 5 to 7, 2010 will all affect player availability. The latter date clashes directly with the return fixture between the two sides.
With Nicci Daly replacing Cathy McKean, Loreto continue to have five players involved. Railway will be less affected with Emma Smyth the sole Irish regular but Helen Stevenson’s inclusion means goalkeeper cover may be needed from time to time. Jill Whelan has returned from her travels and may contest the spot with Leinster U-18 Rachel Barnett should any opportunities arise.
She could rejoin a front six which has been firing in recent weeks, led by Nikki Symmons (above, left) who battered in a trio on Wednesday night. Her midfield dealings with Sinead Walsh, Kate Dillon and Emma Smyth will be fascinating to behold.
Elsewhere, Hermes swap out Chrsitine Quinlan with Aoife McCarthy coming back into the back four after a week’s absence – the former attending a wedding – for the trip to Old Alex. Anna O’Flanagan (below, left) has been their totem up front, scoring seven times in recent weeks while playing a role in numerous others.
Alex are playing catch-up on the leading quartet with games to spare but need to start registering to keep pace as a substantial eight-point margin already exists to fourth placed UCD.
Pembroke are in a similar boat with just four points and would be bottom on goal difference but for Bray’s one point deduction. Their IHL results show there is enough quality but will have to nullify the threat of former player Rachel Scott on Saturday against Trinity to avoid the 1-1 draw when the sides met in February.
The pair battle twice within two days as the pre-Christmas programme comes to an end on Sunday as the Jacqui Potter quarter-final places are up for grabs.
Serpentine Avenue is the venue on both occasions. Elsewhere, the eye-catching tie of the round is UCD’s hosting of Railway Union with Holly Jenkinson facing her old club for the second time since making an off-season move.
The Belfielders are the only Leinster side to breach Helen Stevenson’s goal to date this term. Glenanne play Bray in the other all-division one tie while Hermes have the day off as Skerries have scratched.
Women’s Leinster Division One (Saturday):
Pembroke vs Trinity, 12.45pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union vs Loreto, 3pm, Park Avenue; Old Alex vs Hermes, 3.15pm, Milltown
Jacqui Potter Cup, second round (Sunday):
Corinthian II vs Old Alex, 12.30pm, Whitechurch; Hermes vs Skerries, 2pm, St Andrew’s; Pembroke vs Trinity, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue; Corinthian vs Pembroke II, 2.30pm, Whitechurch; Glenanne vs Bray, 2.30pm, St Mark’s; North Kildare vs Loreto, 3pm, Griffeen Valley Park; Old Alex II vs Genesis, 3pm, Milltown; UCD vs Railway Union, 2pm, Belfield