Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl5 W1 D1 L3 GF 12 GA 17
Qualification as: 4th in Ulster
The lowdown: Belfast Harlequins will hope to get their season up and running after a slow start, marked by holidays and work commitments at Deramore with former international Jenny McAuley providing the team’s creative spark. Ulster U-16 captain Zara Thom has arrived from Lisnagarvey while Jenny Evans returns to Belfast after seven years in England. South African Kelli Thornton, though, has retired and is now Paddy Grimes assistant coach while Hannah Clarke has gone to Canada for a year. Sarah Wilkinson and Clare Coey form part of the side’s dangerous forward line which will need to fire if they are to get anything out of Hermes, Loreto or Pegasus.
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: first appearance
Qualification as: 2nd in IHL play-offs; 3rd in Munster
The lowdown: With Eimear Cregan scoring goals for fun – 12 in four games at the last count – and a string of up and coming players to call upon, Naomi Carroll, Roisin Upton and Rebecca Barry at the top of the list, there is a case being made that Institute could break Cork Harlequins’ stronghold in Munster. As the one side making their IHL debut this weekend, they could scarcely have picked a tougher trip. A strengthened Pegasus will be a major roadblock in the first instance and it does not get much easier with visits from the twin towers of Loreto and Hermes. Trips to Belfast Harlequins and UCC may yield some big points but staying in touch with the other three prior to those games could be a bridge too far
Last Year: semi-finalists, lost on penalties to Railway Union
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 13 W9 D3 L1 GF 29 GA 10*
Qualification as: 2nd in Leinster
The lowdown: Pitted against Loreto and Pegasus to continue their long-running saga which has cranked up a notch since the dawn of the IHL. The Booterstown club did better out of the CPP with Audrey O’Flynn and Sinead McCarthy augmenting new signing Sinead Connery, Lisa Jacob, Kerry McComish and Eimear Horan to make up a squad teeming with interprovincial quality at the very least. If they can take care of Munster duo Catholic Institute and UCC as well as the Belfast variety of Quin, then real pressure can be applied on Loreto and Pegs. Any slips and it could make for a fascinating final two rounds of matches.
Last Year: 3rd Pool B
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) P12 W7 D3 L2 GF 29 GA 15*
Qualification as: 3rd in Leinster
The lowdown: The big scorers in Leinster to date, Cathy McKean looks to be revelling without her international commitments while Nicci Daly has been buzzing in the opening weeks of the season. Coping without Nikki Symmons for the trip to Belfast Harlequins will be a tough task while Lizzie Colvin’s absence is also a big one to deal with. Mary Harkin has stepped in between the posts while Louisa Healy takes time out from the game. Their division of home and away ties is probably the hardest in the group but there is plenty of lively, young talent to assuage worries – Hannah Matthews, Ali Meeke and Aisling Campion all set to play even more central roles.
Last Year: Semi-finalists, lost in extra-time to Cork Harlequins
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 12 W9 D0 L3 GF31 GA18
Qualification as: Ulster champions
The lowdown: A relative drought on the national stage could be ready to be watered this season after a couple of big additions. Vanessa Surgeoner (Randalstown) and Stephanie Quinn (Armagh) and the return of Jill Orbinson from maternity leave makes them a formidable prospect to challenge Hermes and Loreot in the group stages. Suzanne Beaney and Claire McMahon still have plenty in the tank while holding on to current international Michelle Harvey offers a drag-flick option. They beat both of their Dublin rivals last time around and their ties with both will be the lifeblood to any progression.
Last Year: 5th Pool B
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W1 D0 L4 GF 7 GA8
Qualification as: Munster runners-up
The lowdown: Despite Julia O’Halloran, Audrey O’Flynn and Emily Kenefick, there still remains a core of talent at UCC with Miriam Crowley, Ali O’Connor and Fiona O’Connell bringing interpro and a modicum of international know-how. But replacing the departed has been easier said than done with Aine Curran – a South-East player of note – the one name to join the ranks. In goals, Zoe Cremin or Emma White could step in for Karen Olden but over-turning their 2-0 defeat to Hermes without their main firepower of a year ago gives an idea of the task in front of them. The Booterstown club is beginning to look like a UCC old girl’s club with alumni Aoife McCarthy, Aine, Fiona and Sinead Connery, recent graduate Audrey O’Flynn and coach Mary Logue all former wearers of the skull and crossbones. Another trip to Dublin to play Loreto and visits from Catholic Institute and Pegasus means times do not get any easier as the tournament progresses.
Last Year: 5th Pool A
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W2 D0 L3 GF 7 GA 10
Qualified as: 3rd in Ulster
The lowdown: An 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Pegasus does not augur well and the departure of Eimear Horan to Hermes is another sizeable blow to their ambitions. Former Irish international Tamara Stronge and Irish U-17 Chloe Brown provide international experience but they will find it tough in a group featuring the reigning champions, Railway Union, and the rising stars of UCD. To be in with a chance, they need to oust Armagh away – the side that pipped them to second in Ulster last term – in round one and last season’s finalists Cork Harlequins.
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W0 D0 L5 GF 3 GA 18
Qualification as: 2nd in Ulster
The lowdown: After a year out, Armagh return to the IHL hoping to improve on their last showing, white-washed with just a single bonus point to show for their efforts. Emma Stewart captains the side but fellow international Stephanie Quinn has left for Pegasus. Coach Niall McCool will have hopes Amy Stewart can recover fully from her ankle injury which kept her out for a whole season. They were the nearest challengers to Pegs’ throne last season, coming within three points of the Belfast club. Hosting Railway and UCD will need to be exploited if they are to break the playoff spots.
Last Year: 4th Pool A
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 10 W3 D4 L3 GF 18 GA 16
Qualification as: wildcard playoff runners-up, 5th in Ulster
The lowdown: Player-coach Bridget Cleland’s side will be stronger for their qualification through a tough wildcard section last time out and while Railway emphatically breached their usual home superiority, their Joey Dunlop home is still a big ace in their pack; for them it’s a pity they only such advantage twice. Jessica Lynch is back after a spell with Loreto while youngsters Jenna Holmes and Katie Mullan – stars of the Youth Olympic Games – could aid their course. But the longest trip of the competition to Cork Harlequins and two strong Leinster teams could be too much.
Last Year: finalists, lost to Railway Union 4-0
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 13 W7 D2 L4 GF 23 GA 22
Qualification as: Munster champions
The lowdown: Virtually unrecognisable from the side that has claimed the last 16 years in Munster, last year’s IHL final represented a last hurrah for Karen Bateman, Rachael Kohler and Chapple’s Jane and Hilary. With Eimear Cregan having moved back to Limerick in mid-season, the experience deficit is likely to be felt this season. Cliodhna Sargent has been stepping up, crashing home six goals already this season while sister Vanessa has joined the club’s ranks between the posts in place of Amy O’Neill. Rachel McSharry will run midfield but getting off to a fast start looks a huge proposition. They play Railway – who have since strengthened – who beat them 4-0 and 3-0 in their two IHL encounters last term. A long trip to Ards follows but their three home ties are winnable and may hold their fate.
Last Year: Winner
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 12 W9 D2 L1 GF 37 GA 14
Qualification as: Leinster champions
The lowdown: The easier looking group, Railway have to be seen as clear favourites for a semi-final slot, especially with Julia O’Halloran bringing her scoring stick up from Cork and Alex Speers playing the role of assister. Isobel and Cecelia Joyce’s cricket commitments and Nikki Evans’ injury could see them shy a few players while Kate McKenna is in Spain and Holly Jenkinson travelling. But Orla Fox and the development of Kate Lloyd and Lisa McCarthy mean the squad is packed with ability. Two trips north – one to Mick McKinnon’s Armagh alma mater – are the banana-skins but a return to the playoffs is the likely outcome.
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W3 D0 L2 GF 12 GA 8
Qualification as: 4th in Leinster
The lowdown: With one of their intakes in recent times, the arrival of Chloe Watkins, Brenda Flannery, Jess McMickan and Niamh Atcheler gives Johnny Harte plenty of options for the students return to the IHL. A reasonable amount of experience from their last venture into the competition remains with Caitriona McGilp and Rachel Burke on hand to guide the freshers. Road trips to the sandy surrounds Cork Harlequins and Armagh could thwart their water-based prowess but there is a sense of opportunity about this group for the second place on offer after Railway.