Pegasus the side to beat in IHL4; full rundown on women’s runners and riders

Year four of the ESB Electric Ireland Irish Hockey League begins with a bang as Munster champions Catholic Institute welcome Pegasus to Rosbrien in a tie which will set the tone for an intriguing Pool A.

The division of IHL groups this time has seen the Pool pit four major contenders together with Hermes and Pegasus once again locking horns. Previously, they have been pushed all the way by Loreto but now comes a twin threat from an emerging Insta outfit and UCD’s array of young talent.

Pegs, though, remain very much the side to beat having netted 39 goals without response from their six competitive games to date – most notably a 6-0 victory over fellow IHL side Lurgan.

Natalie Pinkerton is their main addition as they look to repeat the 5-2 victory over Insta of a year ago.

UCD begin their campaign with a reverse fixture of their draw last term at Ardmore, welcoming Armagh to Belfield with 13 new faces on their books. The Orchard side have a couple of changes, too, with Katherine Steenson back after her travels but Joanne Orr is now with Queens and Leah Ewart wears opposition colours.

Old Alex welcome back defensive duo Anne-Marie Cullen and ex-Hermes player Laura Gray from injury to face the Booterstown club at Milltown. This will also be recent signing Emma Russell’s first game against her old club.

Hermes’ coach Mary Logue will have a strong squad to select from as she welcomes her internationals players to the fold for the first time this season

Pool B looks set to take place in slightly more placid waters with UCC’s trip to Ballymoney potentially the most interesting of the three games.

A new-look UCC side make their second visit to Ulster in eight days as they trek to the Joey Dunlop Centre. Lurgan look forward to the first instalment of a double header against Railway Union, whom they’ve also been drawn against in the Irish Senior Cup in their maiden IHL game.

Railway will travel north with a full strength squad, with German midfielder Silja Dornow looking forward to her first taste of IHL action.  Loreto, meanwhile, will be glad of avoiding Hermes and Pegasus who have forced them out at the group stage for the past two seasons as they bid to recapture the title, this time beginning with a tie against Cork Harlequins – the 2010 finalists.

Irish Hockey League Rd 1 Pool A: Catholic Institute v Pegasus (Rosbrien, 1pm); UCD v Armagh (UCD, 1pm); Old Alex v Hermes (Milltown, 3.30pm); Pool B: Loreto v Cork Harlequins (Loreto Beaufort, 1.15pm); Ballymoney v UCC (Joey Dunlop Centre, 2.30pm); Lurgan v Railway Union (Lurgan HS, 2.30pm)

Women’s Leinster Division One (Saturday): Three Rock Ladies vs Glenanne, 5pm, Grange Road
Division Two: UCD vs Genesis, 11.15am, Belfield; North Kildare vs Old Alex, 1pm, The Maws; Loreto vs Corinthian, 3pm, Beaufort; Railway vs Pembroke, 4.30pm; Newbridge vs Hermes postponed

Women’s IHL Groups, 2010/11
Women’s Pool A:
Pegasus, Hermes, Old Alex, Armagh, UCD, Catholic Institute
Women’s Pool B: Loreto, Railway, Lurgan, UCC, Cork Harlequins, Ballymoney.

Pool A

Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 10 W1 D3 L6 GF 12 GA 26
Qualification as: 3rd in Ulster
The lowdown: Hampered by the loss of Leah Ewart and Joanne Orr to college sides, Armagh’s plight is a tough one as Ulster’s third place finishers. Drawn with Munster and Leinster champions as well as the current IHL and Senior Cup champions, this is a line-up in which they would expected to be outside of contention. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of quality in the Orchard side who won the National Indoor Trophy last season. They welcome back Katherine Steenson after a year out travelling and Amy Stewart has recovered from an ankle problem and she is already the top goal scorer in Ulster so far. Armagh coach Niall McCool is under no illusion about their opening tie against UCD: “UCD are a great squad with some fantastic players. We will certainly need to be at the top of our game to compete with these guys. They have proved so far they mean business this season with great results in Leinster league and the ESB Electric Ireland Irish senior cup. It will be good to measure ourselves against one of the best teams in Ireland .”

Catholic Institute
Last Year: Third in Group …
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W 3 D 0 L 2 GF 11 GA 8
Qualification as: Munster champions
The lowdown: Deserved champions and double winners last season in Munster, Ger O’Carroll and Dave Passmore have not only nurtured through a special group of youngsters but also instilled a winning mentality at Rosbrien, although Elaine Bromell and Eimear Cregan’s know-how has been a huge influence on that score too. Bromell’s old Pembroke Wanderers mucker Elaine Hall has now joined the party in Limerick although Rebecca Barry’s departure for America is a significant loss. Nonetheless, having a fully fit Katie Campbell available adding to Naomi Carroll’s nous means they can push on from a largely encouraging debut in the competition. Although coach O’Carroll reckons Institute have a long way to go to find their rhythm, a 6-0 away win at Bandon and defeating UCC by the odd goal in three in an early season six-pointer should bode well for Insta, even if they’ll be without injured Munster U18 captain Róisín Upton and Sheena Mannion. Hosting Pegasus on day one is a big test to start an incredibly tough series of games.

Last Year: finalists, lost to Pegasus in the final
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 20 W13 D3 L4 GF 41 GA 19*
Qualification as: Leinster champions
The lowdown: Semi-finalists in every season to date, Hermes aim to end a series of frustrations in the premier competition which dates back to the old format. Again, they have a huge talent with Miriam Crowley adding to an attacking roster which already includes Aine Connery, Jenny Burke, Gillian Pinder and Lisa Jacob but the moving on of creative spark Anna O’Flanagan and Deirdre Duke’s strong running may apply a couple of brakes. Indeed, tying with Corinthian was not in the build-up plans and the first round represents the first time the side has played together as their Senior Cup bye scuppered that option to reintegrate their first team. Two Dublin derbies begin the campaign while round five’s clash with Pegasus is already ear-marked as a potential battle royale should either side encounter tricky waters along the way.

Old Alex
Last Year: 5th Pool A
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W 2 D 1 L 2 GF 8 GA 8
Qualified as: wildcard playoffs, 5th in Leinster
The lowdown: Quietly blooding more and more teenagers – Emma Russell and Laura Gray’s switches from Hermes adding to their youthful element – Ivan Ovington and Miles Warren have a tricky task ahead of them as they return to the competition after a year’s hiatus. Shirley McCay will need to show all her battling qualities while Pam Smithwick could have a busy time of it between the posts. Hermes, Pegasus, Catholic Institute and then UCD make for a really difficult series of matches by anyone’s standards before they finally get to face fellow outsiders Armagh in round five.

Last Year: Winners
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 19 W16 D0 L3 GF59 GA23
Qualification as: Ulster runners-up
The lowdown: A relative drought on the national stage ended last term in emphatic style as Pegasus swept aside all-comers, impressing hugely in the final’s weekends of both the Senior Cup and the IHL. Last season, the additions of Vanessa Surgeoner and Stephanie Quinn offered extra ballast to their midfield and forward manouveres and while the squad is reasonably settled, Natalie Pinkerton is the one newcomer. Arlene Boyles and Pamela Glass run the show at the back while Suzanne Beaney showed her hunger for goals in the week with a 7-0 win over Three Rock Ladies and a 6-0 result over Lurgan already to their name. Losing their Ulster title has got them in the predicament of a tougher group and they begin with two away days before getting back to home comforts. In a group of big names, their’s looks to be the biggest.

Last Year:
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 11 W6 D2 L3 GF 24 GA 17
Qualification as: 4th in Leinster

The lowdown: The students claim as contenders is a big one but they have been dealt a brute of a group from which title aspirations will be pushed to the fullest. Thirteen players in brings the pressure of expectation but, so far, Johnny Harte’s side have shown they are up to the task by tonking Cork Harlequins as well as beating Loreto and just missing out on a victory over Railway in the dying moments. Leah Ewart will face her former in round one but their fate will be decided on road-trips to Hermes, Pegasus and Catholic Institute much more so than against Old Alex and Armagh at home. Anna O’Flanagan has been superb to date and her combination play with Chloe Watkins will be central to their progress.

Pool B

Last Year:
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 15 W4 D6 L5 GF 22 GA 31
Qualification as: Ulster champions
The lowdown: Player-coach Bridget Cleland heads up a side that enters the competition as Ulster champions having ended Pegasus’ lengthy reign at the top up north. They feature a couple of rising stars, too, with Kathryn Mullan and Jenna Holmes providing underage international experience, augmenting Cleland and Lauren Barr’s rigidity in defence. They did, however, drop Premier League points on home turf in midweek against the Ulster Elks – the Joey Dunlop Centre usually known as a fortress – but an imposing 3-0 win over Armagh may be a stronger form guide. UCC are the first visitors in what could be a tone-setting tie for both side’s ambitions.

Last Year: 3rd Pool B
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 17 W10 D3 L4 GF 41 GA 25*
Qualification as: Leinster runners-up
The lowdown: Since winning the inaugural title, Loreto have come unstuck in two of the toughest imaginable groups, coming out the bottom end of a tussles with Hermes and Pegasus. It means that they face into Pool B with a certain sense of relief that pair are absent and they start with two home games in which they will back themselves. Louisa Healy’s increased availability is another boost to go with a lightning strike-force of Cathy McKean, Nicci Daly, Niamh Small and backed by Nikki Symmons and Lizzie Colvin. The group gets trickier after those initial dates with journeys to UCC and Ballymoney but a semi-final place is up for grabs if they get their mojo going.

Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: 1st appearance
Qualification as:
The lowdown: Very much an emerging force up north, nine of their number have been named in Ulster underage panels and they draw a number from the Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirl’s winning side of last season. Bethany and Serena Barr along with Hannah Grieve were all part of that crew as the club also provided five players to the Ireland U-16 panel in the summer. As such, it is a voyage of discovery and they have the slightly friendlier of the two pools to get them started. Facing Railway on home turf may not be ideal but Cork Harlequins at the same venue is certainly one to target and a strong showing could be sign of things to come in a couple of years time.

Cork Harlequins
Last Year: sixth in Group
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 18 W8 D3 L7 GF 28 GA 37
Qualification as: Munster runners-up
The lowdown: Shorn of a string of first-teamers in the wake of their final reaching performance in 2010, Cork Harlequins have recently been boosted by Karen Bateman and Jane Chapple’s return to action but last week’s 4-0 loss to UCD in the Senior Cup suggests they are not at the same level as two seasons ago. Acacia Taylor is a good talent while Yvonne O’Byrne has matured from that panel to captain the side despite her tender years. Cliodhna Sargent is still the marquee name with former High School student Rachel McSharry the lynch-pin further up the park but it is tough to see the side contend.

Railway Union
Last Year: Semi-finalists
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 18 W13 D3 L2 GF 54 GA 22
Qualification as: 3rd in Leinster
The lowdown: A third place finish in Leinster means they will face three away dates but were Mick McKinnon to have picked them, he may have come up with a similar result. Lurgan, first up, represents a bit of a journey into the unknown but facing UCC and Ballymoney on home turf are probably the most appealing ties from a group which is tricky but does not have the same imposing look as Pool A. German midfielder Silja Dornow adds to their options since taking up a position with Google in Dublin, linking up with Irish internationals Emma Smyth, Kate McKenna, Alex Speers, Nikki Evans, Jean McDonnell and Julia O’Halloran but Jeamie Deacon is one powerful option they miss. Only Pegasus and Hermes have beaten  them in this competition in the three seasons to date and they look a good get for a semi-final despite an intermittent start to the league campaign before the return of their internationals.

Last Year: 5th Pool B
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 10 W2 D0 L8 GF 13 GA 23
Qualification as: wildcard qualifiers, 3rd in Munster
The lowdown: The entry and exit doors have both been busy at the Mardyke this summer, with eight players coming in and nine leaving, although many of the side’s (relative) veterans have stayed put, keeping key players Ali O’Regan and Ali O’Connor as the controlling influences along with sweeper Olivia Roycroft and the returning Emily Kenefick.

Miriam Crowley’s departure to Dublin robs Paidi Hartnett of international star quality but Amy Kate Trevor is a marquee addition, coming with Ireland U-18 and Youth Olympic experience. The majority of the new arrivals have recent representative caps, however, while Siobhan Sexton brings a near-decade of top-level experience to the side. Lengthy trips to Railway and Ballymoney and a derby day at Cork Harlequins, though, represent a less than favourable fixture breakdown.

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