Despite the ending of their 13-year reign as Ulster champions, Pegasus stand on the cusp of one of their most memorable years as they seek to add the women’s IHL title to the Irish Senior Cup title they won just a fortnight ago.
All three provinces have seen reigning champions deposed in their domestic league with Railway Union’s two-year stint halted by Hermes and Catholic Institute taking over from Cork Harlequins after 15 years in Munster.
The latest came on Thursday night as Ballymoney beat Armagh 2-1 to win the Ulster Premier League but Arlene Boyles – along with Claire McMahon, one of the most decorated players in Irish club history with eight Senior Cup titles – reckons that any anguish over that situation can be wiped away this weekend.
Furthermore, she feels there is big benefits from a strengthened domestic league: “The big thing is, when you play in a league which you win, comfortably on occasion, and then go out and face a Hermes or UCD or Railway.
“The level you have to get up to; it does take you time to do that. Ulster leagues are getting closer and that can only be a good thing. For Pegasus, with the younger players coming through and a new coach, it took us a while to get going and we slipped up early in the season.
“To be honest with you, I’d rather have an Irish cup and be in the finals of the IHL than having a 14th Ulster league title.”
It is part of a feel-good year in Ulster who have taken the majority of the national titles already doled out on the men’s and women’s sides, something which Boyles can continue to prosper.
“The Cookstown boys did fantastically well, winning their first national cup in 24 years. There’s some talent down that neck of the woods and Banbridge have some talented kids too.
“In the girls setup, there’s good talent coming through too. I just hope the centralisation programme for Ireland does not take away from Ulster players playing in Ulster.
“If I was watching from the sidelines, I would want to see Irish internationals playing in Ulster. With the CPP, that kind of eliminates that.
“It’s a decision Irish hockey has made and I really hope it reaps the rewards and we’re watching and Irish jersey on an Olympic pitch in 2012.
“If it is, I’ll be the first in a queue for a ticket but I think it does take away from kids being able to see Irish internationals playing in Ulster with their clubs. Hopefully and thankfully there are some really talented kids coming through over Ulster and hopefully we can keep them from other sports.”
Her side face UCD for the second time in a fortnight, playing at the same time as they did in the Senior Cup final four, a 1-0 win for the Belfast side.
Boyles’ counterpart Megan Tennant Humphreys, meanwhile, says her side have learned from their previous encounter and have the know-how to over-turn the result.
“We do have quite a lot of experience. There were only three starters from two years ago but there were a good few in the squad and Niamh [Atcheler] and Chloe [Watkins] bring experience.
“For any of the youngsters, they may have been in awe of the name of Pegasus and didn’t believe we quite could do it.
“Our performance, losing by just one goal, does give us that bit of belief. If it had been 5-0 it might be different but it does give us that edge for those who is might have been lacking. We’ve played big games this year and hopefully that will stand to us.”
The other semi-final is an all-Dublin affair, a repeat of the 2010 semi-final in which Railway Union got the better of Hermes in a penalty shoot-out.
It’s a growing rivalry, the two sides getting used to battling it out for top honours both in Leinster and on the national stage.
But a true familiarity and form guide has yet to reveal itself in the eyes of Railway left-back Isobel Joyce – the reigning champion’s skipper/
“There’s a great rivalry between ourselves and Hermes and, no matter what, we always want to beat each other.”
“We played Hermes three times this year – one win, draw and loss – but the thing is our two teams have been changing so much that we’re not that much of a known quantity.
“We don’t know exactly how they’re going to play. It’s the first time both teams will play with their internationals.”
Alex Speers, Emma Smyth and Jean McDonnell are available while Julia O’Halloran could be in the mix, too, after a back problem ruled her out of last weekend’s EuroHockey Club Champion’s Trophy. Nikki Evans is definitely out due to a hand injury.
Hermes, meanwhile, will have a contingent of seven current internationals available with Gillian Pinder adding to their list of Irish players – Aine Connery, Audrey O’Flynn, Sinead McCarthy, Emma Gray, Anna O’Flanagan and Lisa Jacob all donning the green against France last weekend.
They are hoping to summon a performance from the wounds of their Irish Senior final defeat to Pegasus, one in which Jenny Burke believes her side did not show their true potential.
“We’re disappointed after the Irish Senior Cup final because we didn’t perform and just felt that we nearly snatched a draw by not playing particularly well. We’re thinking if we just could have got ourselves going earlier.
“But we had a great team night out after; you’d swear we won it as every single member of our team was there; a really good bonding night where we could forget about it.
“We’re so lucky that we’re still in a competition as well because you can be in a big match like that, not play well and that’s that. But we have a second chance to make amends and play to our potential.”
Irish Hockey League finals weekend, Hillsborough, Co Down, Saturday:
Women’s semi-finals: Pegasus v UCD (10.30am); Railway Union v Hermes (12.30pm)
Sunday: Final (1.30pm)