Though they do not face off directly this weekend, 2009 finalists Hermes and Loreto remain at loggerheads in the IHL Pool B quest for a return to the play-off stages.
With their ultimate destiny intertwined and likely to be decided when they meet on March 14, both require away wins at Randalstown and UCC, respectively. Anything else, and the door could be opened up for either the students or Old Alex.
For Hermes, they travel north hoping for more of the first quarter sharpness that accounted for Loreto in midweek than the struggles they endured against Pembroke. Chloe Watkins and Jenny Burke could return to that midweek panel while Aine Connery has been an excellent addition since joining the squad in the autumn.
The tie will conclude an exceptionally busy week for Deirdre Duke who played three club games in addition to Alexandra College’s school’s semi-final. Throw in today’s FAI Leinster Senior school’s soccer final in Navan against Eureka, Kells and its a gruelling schedule.
Niamh Atcheler is also a doubt after a nasty injury in Wednesday’s school’s semi-final for St Andrew’s.
Loreto’s squad, by contrast, is added to significantly as their international quintet return to the fray for the trip to play UCC – the only unbeaten Munster league side.
They also welcome back Irish players with Julia O’Halloran and Audrey O’Flynn while camogie star Miriam Crowley is back in contention after competing last week in the Ashbourne Cup finals weekend.
Old Alex, meanwhile, have a tough task if they are to stay in contention. They need to get something from their tie at Pegasus if they are retain a chance of making the play-offs in their maiden IHL season.
Indeed, whilst they concede home advantage, the Park Avenue outfit will fancy their chances against a side all but eliminated from the competition.
Former Railway skipper Cathy Kenefick lines out for the Munster women while Cork camogie star Emer Dillon is out for the Dublin 4 club. The real dog-fight in the group is for second place with four sides covered by just three points.
Those four sides all face off this weekend with current second place incumbents Pembroke hosting fourth placed Ards while Cork Harlequins make the long trip to Ballymoney.
Outside of the Leinster league, Pembroke have impressed this season, showing a bizarre duality that has seen them drop to ninth in division but remain clear contenders for an IHL semi-final berth to go with their Jacqui Potter final next month.
Sarah Clarke has returned to lend her experience and a terrific corner option to go with Karen Hales’ power while Kelly Scott stepped up admirably to the space vacated by Jayne Coyne in the 4-2 win over Hermes.
Aoife Sherriff is still out through injury but could appear before the end of the season. Ards arrive in Dublin with former UCD players Eimear Horan and Katy Fraser in tow but are coming off the back of a 4-0 home reverse at the hands of Pegasus.
Any win for the purples should retain their place in the top two ahead of a Sandymount derby against Railway in round five of matches.
Cork Harlequins, meanwhile, travel north to somewhat of a bogey ground at the Joey Dunlop Centre though they will be buoyed by impressive wins against UCC and Catholic Institute last weekend.
Saturday’s Leinster division one fixtures are all postponed by UCD will play Railway Union on Sunday in a back match.
ESB Irish Hockey League:
Pool A (Saturday): Cork C of I v Railway Union, 1pm, Garryduff; Ballymoney v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; Pembroke v Ards, 2.30pm, Serpentine Ave;
Pool B (Saturday): Randalstown v Hermes, 2.30pm, Antrim Forum; UCC v Loreto, 3pm, Garryduff
(Sunday): Pegasus v Old Alex, 1pm, Queens
Women’s Leinster Division One:
UCD vs Railway Union, 3.45pm, Belfield