Connacht President Yvette Quinn has hailed the move to hand the province a first ever entry into the women’s Irish Hockey League as “recognition of the improving standard in the west”.
It came following a change in rules of the club scene’s premier competition for the 2013/14 season with the Connacht league champions automatically qualifying for the IHL rather than going into the wildcard playoffs.
It means that the make-up of the competition is tweaked to see the top four in both Ulster and Leinster qualify directly from their domestic leagues along with the top two from Munster and Connacht’s entrant, leaving just one place available in the wildcard qualifier. One club from the four provinces will go into this winner-takes-all wildcard competition.
Commenting on the change, Quinn said: “We’re delighted; coupled with investment in facilities, it gives us the chance to attract more sponsorship and keep players playing hockey locally and competing with other sports.”
The IHL schedule is currently being revised following calendar changes announced this week, a knock-on effect of the FIH’s decision to move World League round two tournament’s from March forward to February.
The new calendar does not feature any further changes prior to Christmas but the Irish Senior Cup finals weekend has been moved to March 23/24. The IHL will now take place entirely after Easter for both the men and women in a back-ended, pooled-venue arrangement as agreed by the clubs at the IHL Forum last March.
On the Leinster scene, Loreto, Old Alex and Railway Union will be hoping to continue their perfect starts to the season. The Beaufort side’s chances will be the most tested as they go up the Grange Road to Whitechurch to play Corinthian on Saturday before taking on Trinity on Sunday. The latter game has been brought forward from December and will be played at Wesley College.
Despite the unavailability of Nicci Daly and Louisa Healy, Loreto have been bolstered by the return of defensive lynch-pin Aisling Campion and Lizzie Colvin’s return (pictured) from her travels last week. For this weekend, Irish internationals are on an enforced rest – barring goalkeepers – before returning to training in midweek, meaning Niamh Small’s return to club action is about eight days away.
Old Alex, meanwhile, are hoping the Tasmanian influence of Jessica Tremayne in midfield and Sophie McLeod up top will add to their impressive starts last weekend, guiding youngsters like Anna Roopnarinesingh in a much-changed Milltown line-up. Pembroke will be a tricky foe but the Serpentine Avenue side as they blend in a wealth of newcomers.
Most of those came from Trinity and Justin Sherriff’s side are shy on experience as a result though Anna-May Whelan and Eanna Horan provide their main threat. How they cope with a free-scoring Railway at Wesley college is another matter.
UCD’s early season travails see them travel to Glenanne hoping to pick up their first win of the campaign, looking to the likes of internationals Leah Ewart, Sarah Greene and Nikki Evans to power their charge. The Glens will have Nikki Symmons back on the sideline to coach following her Champions Challenge bronze medal.
Ireland’s most capped player feature in the Irish Sun this morning, explaining how she endeavours to continue playing at the top level while coping with osteoarthritis.
Another Glenanne centurion, Clare Shillington, will be buoyed by her special Cricket Writer’s of Ireland award for outstanding Performance as she Clare became the first woman to win 100 caps for Ireland in September, when she also scored fifties against Pakistan and Bangladesh and her maiden international century against the Netherlands.
After last weekend’s heroics, North Kildare face Hermes in Booterstown where the likes of Claire O’Regan and Sophie Wickens will be put seriously under the pump.
Women’s Leinster Division One (Saturday): Pembroke v Old Alexandra, 12.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Glenanne v UCD, 1.30pm, Glenanne Park; Trinity v Railway Union, 1.30pm, Wesley College; Hermes v North Kildare, 3.45pm, St. Andrew’s; Corinthian v Loreto, 4.15pm, Whitechurch Park
Sunday: Loreto v Trinity, 3.15pm, Beaufort
Division Two: Three Rock Ladies v Hermes, 12.30pm, Grange Road; Bray v Genesis, 2.30pm, Loreto Bray; Loreto v Newbridge, 2.30pm, Beaufort; Trinity v Railway Union, 3.30pm, Wesley College; Pembroke v Old Alexandra, 3.45pm, Serpentine Avenue