Railway’s McKinnon back on familiar turf

At the business end of the women’s IHL group stages, Railway Union and Armagh can go a long way to securing their place in the playoffs this weekend should either take victory from their meeting on Saturday.

Mick McKinnon is back on his old stomping ground for the first time since moving his coaching work to Dublin, helping to set in motion the rise of the Ulster side.

And the hosts face up to the task with five players out but still have some formidable names in their midst – who all starred in a five successive league wins and the National Indoor Trophy.

But Railway have a glut of quality with Alex Speers, Emma Smyth, Jean McDonnell, Julia O’Halloran and Nikki Evans making for a fearsome front five. A international Zara Delany has also been popping up on the score-sheet of late, too, to add to the visitor’s scoring prowess.

UCD are the other major contenders in Pool B and, while they travel without Rachel Burke and Rosie Carrigan, they will confident against a youthful Cork Harlequins’ side finding its feet.

Their glorious 15-year reign in Munster is over and they look to have little to play for in this tie but the sand-based pitch could swing things in their favour after they were only undone by a golden goal by the students last time around.

In the all-Ulster tie, Ards host Ballymoney with the latter slight favourites Ballymoney to take the points and get themselves back into contention.

Pool A, on paper, is building to a tumultuous finish with Hermes and Loreto set for a day five battle royale for the second play-off place behind Pegasus the second year running.

To get there, though, they have tricky battles to negotiate. Loreto have Nicci Daly back after her broken thumb left her on the sidelines and she travels with the side to Rosbrien to play Catholic Institute.

Insta are champions-elect in Munster with retired Irish captain Eimear Cregan and young internationals Naomi Carroll, Roisin Upton and Rebecca Barry showing they are on the rise.

And the Limerick side are in the best position to break up the hegemony as they loom in fourth place, ready to pounce. Hermes’ task looks slightly simpler against Belfast Harlequins who are struggling in Ulster this term, currently occupying ninth place.

Pegasus will confirm their third semi-final appearance should they get a win against UCC, a side whose aspirations have been dealt a blow by a two-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player.

After a tricky start to the year, Pegs have reasserted their power in Ulster to lead by five points, albeit with two games extra played than their rivals, and are in rude health.

In Leinster, just Corinthian’s game with Pembroke survives due to IHL and touring commitments elsewhere.

Women’s IHL Pool A: Catholic Institute v Loreto, 2.30pm, Rosbrien; UCC v Pegasus, 1pm, Sunday, The Mardyke; Hermes v Belfast Harlequins, 3pm, Belfield Sunday
Pool B: Armagh vs Railway 2.45pm, Armagh; Cork Harlequins v UCD, 3pm, Farmer’s Cross; Ards v Ballymoney, 6pm, Stormont

Leinster Division One: Corinthian vs Pembroke, 12.30pm, Whitechurch Park

Women's Leinster Senior Div 1