The Belfast side have strengthened significantly since last term with Stephanie Quinn and Vanessa Surgeoner adding the squad while Jill Orbinson is back in harness to make them a formidable prospect.
The Dubliners have lost the services of Lizzie Colvin while Hannah Matthews is out due to a nasty facial injury which required 20 stitches, sustained in the Intervarsities. They have seriously impressed on the domestic front with Cathy McKean, Nicci Daly and Niamh Small the stand-outs.
A win in Deramore Park is no mean feat but the lack of a bonus point means there is pressure on Loreto to get a result or play serious catch-up. Should they miss out on the three points, a final day dust-up with Hermes could be their only more-than-tricky course of action.
That is if Hermes carry on their winning ways. Munster’s pace-setters Catholic Institute are standing in their way and are buoyed by a recent 3-1 win over Cork Harlequins and lead division one by seven points.
A 2-1 win for the Dubliners at the same venue in pre-season is not reckoned to be a good guideline for this encounter given both sides were missing players, but this represents a real chance for Institute to make their mark on this competition.
Eimear Cregan and Elaine Bromell in particular have been in cracking form for Ger O’Carroll’s side and are augmented by some of the best young players in Ireland.
Hermes, however, can match them for experience and have quality pockmarked throughout their side. Audrey O’Flynn, Christine Quinlan and Sinead McCarthy form an imposing backline in front of current Irish goalkeeper Emma Gray, while Anna O’Flanagan, Aine Connery and Clare native Eimear Horan will keep the Insta defence occupied.
Irish international Miriam Crowley will hope to get the better of former girl in green Jenny McAuley as UCC host Belfast Harlequins in the group’s other fixture.
Claire Coey is another dangerwoman for the visiting northerners, but College will be glad to be facing her back at the Mardyke, playing their first IHL game there in 12 months after last season’s floods saw them forced to make Garryduff their temporary home.
In Pool B, Railway Union and UCD’s perfect starts to the season will be put to the test at Park Avenue in a battle of two potential semi-finalists.
The key game in Pool B, Railway do not have the services of Eimear Dolan and Cecelia Joyce, allowing a couple of their underage international trialists the chance to add IHL experience to their armoury.
Armagh are tied at the top of the heap in this group and come into the game off the back of a rousing 2-1 win over Pegasus last weekend. Their battle at Ballymoney – who have begun the season with three wins in the Ulster premier league – is vital for both side’s progression dreams. Ards play Cork Harlequins on Sunday in Sunday’s tie.
On the Leinster scene, Trinity and Corinthian have the chance to get off the mark when they meet in Santry in the early game on Saturday in one of three, on paper, well-matched games in division one.
Old Alex play Pembroke in the jostle for the IHL places while Glenanne aim to tie up Bray in Wicklow and reel in the three bonus points earned from Railway’s registration infraction.
Irish Hockey League,
Pool A, Saturday: UCC vs Belfast Harlequins, 12pm, The Mardyke; Catholic Institute vs Hermes, 2pm, Rosbrien.
Sunday: Loreto vs Pegasus, 3pm, Beaufort.
Pool B, Saturday: Ballymoney vs Armagh, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; Railway Union vs UCD, 5pm, Park Avenue.
Sunday: Ards vs Cork Harlequins, 12pm NICS
Women’s Division One:
Saturday: Trinity vs Corinthian, 11.30am, Santry; Old Alexandra vs Pembroke, 1.15pm, Milltown
Sunday: Bray vs Glenanne, 3.30pm, Loreto Bray