One of the enduring inter-provincial rivalries, Hermes and Pegasus fight for the right to lead Pool A of the women’s ESB Irish Hockey League down the closing stretch on Sunday with a winner on the day more than likely to need just one more three-pointer to advance.
Stakes are high, the international quotient even more so as Hermes bring the biggest group of current internationals – six at the latest count – while the remainder of the panel have virtually all played either senior or underage at some point in their careers.
Pegs have less current stars, drag-flick expert Michelle Harvey the sole CPP player, but in Arlene Boyles, Jill Orbinson, Stephanie Quinn, Claire McMahon, Pamela Glass, Kirsty McCollum and Suzanne Beaney there is more than enough caps to go around.
Add in the rangy threat posed by Vanessa Surgeoner and there a goal-scoring threats from numerous angles. McMahon nabbed the only goal the last time the sides met in this competition, making it 1-1 after Hermes took the semi-final in the first year of the IHL.
Each tie in this group this weekend pits sides with the same number of points against each other. It makes current chasers Loreto and UCC’s dust-up key as they anticipate some dropped points above them. Gareth Evans’ Loreto continue on a perfect record this season in the league but the IHL saw them stumble early against Pegs at Beaufort.
The Mardyke side’s main threat comes from Miriam Crowley while Olivia Roycroft has been influential, fluctuating between midfield and sweeper roles. Loreto’s quintet of internationals, however, will provide a fearsome task for the students on Sunday as they look to break a perfect tie – same goals scored and against to boot.
Eimear Cregan’s Catholic Institute have endured a tough entry to this level of competition, facing Hermes and Pegasus back-to-back and a road-trip to Deramore Park to play Belfast Harlequins is not the easiest of trips to add to their itinerary.
Under age internationals Naomi Carroll, Roisin Upton and Rebecca Barry carry a youthful pace about them while skipper Elaine Bromell marshalls their defence against Paddy Grimes’ side who are spearheaded by Jenny McAuley.
In Pool B, Railway and UCD are in reasonable positions in the semi-final hunt, the former leading the pool. They travel north to Ulster leaders Ballymoney for what is always a tricky tie but they will be buoyed by last year’s win at the same venue.
Money have only one injury worry with young star Gayle Adams nursing a hamstring injury but they are fortunate that the match coincides with a home visit from Lynsey McVicker who will coach the side for the game.
Former Irish international Bridget Cleland will be to the fore along with the young Katie Mullan and Jenna Holmes who are making their mark with the Irish 18s.
For Railway, the addition of Jeamie Deacon to the squad brings an added dimension to their play, supporting the good scoring form of Sinead Dooley and Cecelia Joyce, and supplementing the scoring prowess of internationals Jean McDonnell and Alex Speers. The defence, expecting to be tested in this game, are ably led by captain and vice captain Isobel Joyce and Emer Lucey.
UCD, off the back of a midweek defeat to Railway, will hope to bounce back when they face Ards at Belfield, aiming to keep up one of three unbeaten records in the pool. It’s a stage which Chloe Watkins and Niamh Atcheler enjoy.
Finally, 2010 finalists Cork Harlequins face Orchard county side Armagh needing to cause an upset – given the changes in their panel from last year to this – against the side currently occupying second place.
In Leinster league action, Old Alex can move into fourth place if they snaffle a win at Trinity on Saturday. Glenanne, with Niamh Ward back in the mix, welcome Pembroke to St Marks looking to build on last week’s success; a win for the Glens would see the sides level on ten points.
Bray have that points total as a target for the weekend’s end but Corinthian will be targeting their home tie with the Wicklow women as a route to try and close the gap on the sides above them.
Women’s ESB Irish Hockey League, Pool A, Saturday: Belfast Harlequins v Catholic Institute, 6pm, Deramore.
Sunday: Loreto v UCC, 3pm, Beaufort; Pegasus v Hermes, 2.30pm, Queens.
Pool B, all Saturday: Cork Harlequins v Armagh, 1pm, Farmer’s Cross; Ballymoney v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; UCD v Ards, 4pm, Belfield.
Women’s Leinster Division One: Corinthian vs Bray, 11am, Whitechurch; Trinity vs Old Alexandra, 11.30am, Santry Avenue; Glenanne vs Pembroke, 1.15pm, Glenanne Park
Division Two: Three Rock Ladies vs Our Lady’s, 2.15pm, Grange Road; Genesis vs North Kildare, 2.30pm, Belfield
ESB Women’s Irish Junior Cup, Saturday: Dublin University vs Galway, 3pm, Santry; Pembroke vs Loreto, 2.15pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union vs Hermes, 2.45pm, Park Avenue; UCD vs UCC, 1pm, Belfield
ESB Irish Hockey Trophy, Saturday: Raphoe vs Dromore, 12.45pm, Royal and Prior