A repeat of last year’s final is the early highlight of the women’s Irish Hockey League but a strengthened Railway Union will hope their strengthened squad will be able to recreate their 4-0 victory last May, especially as Cork Harlequins cope with high profile retirements.
Karen Bateman and Rachael Kohler have moved on while the Park Avenue hosts have recruited Irish internationals Julia O’Halloran and Alex Speers.
They also have a 3-0 win over the Farmer’s Cross outfit banked in the past year as they look the stand-out name in Pool B.
UCD could be next in line with a string of Irish international talent – both senior and underage – and Chloe Watkins will aim to bring her sharp-shooting into the tie with Bridget Cleland’s Ballymoney.
The pool’s other clash is an all-Ulster clash between Armagh and Ards, the former welcoming back Amy Stewart after a year’s absence with an ankle injury but without Pegasus-bound Stephanie Quinn.
In Pool A, there will be a college reunion of sorts at Belfield on Sunday, as UCC visit pool favourites Hermes. Audrey O’Flynn and Aine Connery wore the skull and crossbones with distinction in recent years but are now regular fixtures for Dubliners.
Connery scored the breakthrough goal in last year’s 2-0 win for Hermes in this fixture, and looked shell-shocked at the time.
It could be O’Flynn’s turn to deal with the mixed emotions this weekend, as she drag-flicks against her old team-mates for the first time.
Leinster’s top-scorers to date, Loreto, begin their campaign at Deramore Park against Belfast Harlequins hoping to contain a forward line of Claire Coey, Sarah Wilkinson and former international Jenny McAuley.
Catholic Institute face a baptism of fire as they make their IHL debut this Sunday in Belfast against Pegasus in Pool A.
A couple of years without silverware on the national stage is considered a drought for them, and they have made a statement of intent by signing Armagh’s Steph Quinn and Randalstown’s Vanessa Surgeoner, while Jill Orbinson and Lyndsey Mallon return from maternity.
They will strengthen a squad that already boasts current Irish full-back and drag-flicker Michelle Harvey, plus veteran finishers Claire McMahon and Suzanne Beaney. Picking up a bonus point would be a decent result for Institute here.
In Leinster’s division one, in the absence of the current top four, plenty of teams have their chance to stake a claim for their first points of the season.
With an extra week of term completed, Trinity will hope to have gelled that bit more when they face a tester against Old Alex who have shown plenty of gumption in their two fixtures to date.
Acclimitising to the pitch should not be a problem, though, being the Trinity training surface in Milltown. Pembroke face Glenanne looking to build on last week’s win over Bray while the Wicklow women play Corinthian.
Weekend fixtures (Saturday unless stated)
IHL Women’s Pool A: Belfast Harlequins vs Loreto (Deramore Park, 6pm); Hermes vs UCC (Sunday, Belfield, 2pm); Pegasus vs Catholic Institute (Sunday, Queens, 12pm).
Pool B: Armagh vs Ards (Armagh, 2.30pm); Railway Union vs Cork Harlequins (Park Avenue, 5pm); UCD vs Ballymoney (Belfield, 4pm)
Women’s Leinster Div 1: Old Alex vs Trinity (Milltown, 1pm); Pembroke Wanderers vs Glenanne (Serpentine Avenue, 1pm)
** Railway Union will host an Oktoberfest event in their clubhouse after their IHL game with Cork Harlequins. Live music from Aspen on the night with bratwurst and brezn on the barbecue.