Crunch time for Pembroke, Hermes and Loreto as they bid for the three remaining slots in the semi-finals of the Irish Hockey League on Sunday.
Both are involved in local derbies to decide their fate, hoping to join Railway Union in the final four with an albeit very remote chance of an all-Leinster play-offs weekend in May.
Hermes against Loreto is undoubtedly the highlight of the Pool B fixtures as the winner of the tie is certain to take up a semi-final berth. Hermes go through should the pair tie with Loreto, in that scenario, needing for a huge shock from Randalstown at Pegasus.
Consistency of selection has been a huge difficulty for the Beaufort club with such a huge contingent in the national squad, chopping and changing from week to week.
As such, Nikki Symmons, Louisa Healy and Lizzie Colvin back in the fray while they will be hoping Niamh Small’s knock last weekend in Nice is not to severe for her to play a part.
In their absence, they did pick up a decent draw against Railway Union which augurs well with Aisling Campions and Hannah Matthews impressing at the back while Nicci Daly and Cathy McKean showed up well further up the pitch.
Hermes will be without their taliswoman Jenny Burke for the rest of the season, though, who is expecting her second child. One of the best of her generation, Burke was central to their double victory over Railway a month ago which thrust Hermes into limelight as major contenders after a couple of months in the shadows.
Nonetheless, Aine Connery is in fine form as is Chloe Watkins who starred in Thursday’s St Andrew’s school’s cup final win.
Eric Fintelman has endured just one defeat since taking over the job mid-season and if that record is maintained, his side will be looking forward to an extended season.
Old Alex round out their maiden IHL journey against UCC; this time out they are able to face off with a much stronger panel than the one that traveled to Pegasus. The winner will take fourth place in the group.
In Pool A, the key battle from a Leinster perspective is the Sandymount derby as Pembroke cross the Dart tracks to face Railway.
The visitors to Park Avenue have much more to play for and might benefit from a little Mick McKinnon tinkering as Railway are already confirmed as table-toppers.
Pembroke’s form has picked up markedly in recent weeks and the added scramble of a place in Wednesday’s cup final squad brings extra motivation to impress – witnessed at a high energy training session in midweek.
Sarah Clarke has been banging in the corners of late. Emma Smyth is available again for Railway.
Cork Harlequins are the sharks circling just beneath, looking to reach the last four for a second successive year. They need to outdo Pembroke by a point as any tie in the standings can only be achieved by Quins ending on a higher goal difference.
They host an Ards’ side who need a bonus point win and Pembroke to get nothing to have chance of going through. Cork C of I host Ballymoney in the race to avoid the wooden spoon.
Meanwhile, in division one, Corinthian can move up to sixth if they get any sort of a result at UCD. However, a win for the students would confirm at least a top five finish and needing just two wins from their last four to confirm their automatic return to the IHL after a year’s hiatus.
Women’s ESB Irish Hockey League Rd 5:
Pool A (all Sunday, 1pm): Cork C of I vs Ballymoney (Garryduff); Cork Harlequins vs Ards (Harlequin Park); Railway Union vs Pembroke Wanderers (Park Avenue)
Pool B (all Sunday, 3pm): Old Alex vs UCC (Milltown); Loreto vs Hermes (Beaufort); Pegasus vs Randalstown (Queens).
Leinster Women – Division 1 (Saturday)
UCD v Corinthian, 1pm, Belfield