The second weekend of this season’s Irish Hockey League threatens to be the making or breaking of many of the sides as the double-headers can either crush dreams or soar hopes.
At Park Avenue on Saturday, three Leinster sides need to get on the board after Railway Union, UCD and Old Alex all endured losses in round one.
In past seasons, 12 points has been a bare minimum to qualify for the playoff phases and so any slip-ups for that trio is likely to leave them all but out of the reckoning.
Railway fell to an impressive Loreto in round one of the competition and face a Catholic Institute side buzzing after their opening phase win over Ulster Elks in which rising star Naomi Carroll starred in tandem with former Irish skipper Eimear Cregan.
UCD will be hoping some of their international stars can return for their battle with Old Alex after Niamh Athcheler, Chloe Watkins, Nicola Gray and Brenda Flannery missed out through injury in their surprise loss to Ards.
Old Alex, though, are much strengthened – after their 3-0 loss to Ballymoney – with Shirley McCay back in town after a weekend away, Miles Warren back on the sideline after the birth of his son and the Alex schoolgirl contingent available following their Easter tour to South Africa. Those elements makes for serious potential for a second banana-skin for UCD.
Across the city on Saturday in Pool B, St Andrew’s is the venue where both Cork Harlequins and Ards will be looking to build on their positive starts to the campaign when they meet.
The northern side were all but written off in some newspapers prior to their last trip to Dublin but they have enjoyed playing in the city in 2013, landing the National Indoor Trophy along with last week’s UCD win in Beaufort.
In Chloe Brown, they have one of the country’s brightest prospects with an aggressive eye for goal to go with the experience of former international Tamara Stronge while Naomi McKnight has impressed between the posts. Quins will be looking to their trio of Cliodhna Sargent, Yvonne O’Byrne and Rachel McSharry to again step up.
Their game preludes another Dublin derby in Pool A in which Hermes take on a buoyant Loreto. The hosts know they must get maximum points from if they have any hope of progressing to the latter stages of the IHL.
But their guests may well have a stronger deck to pick from with Sarah Clarke returning to the panel while Nikki Symmons is listed in their panel after her hamstring injury sustained in the World League Round Two in Spain.
Should she line out, it will be just her second appearance of the season. With Nikki Keegan and Cathy McKean nearing full fitness after carrying knocks, they hope to repeat their 2-0 Leinster league win earlier this term.
Lurgan host the other of the three Saturday dates with four Ulster sides in action. Pegasus made a major statement of intent with victory over Hermes last week and, as recently crowned Ulster champions, will be favourites to undo Ulster Elks, a side they beat 2-0 in the Premier League and finished outside the 2013/14 IHL places.
At 4.30pm, Ballymoney play hosts Lurgan. The two sides met in last year’s IHL, with ’Money recording a convincing 5-0 win. Since that however they have drawn in the league this year, so the hosts will be hoping for another positive step. Ballymoney will be looking to add to their tally after their victory over Old Alex in the opening round.
How this ties pan out can have a huge effect on the Sunday mindset. At Belfield, UCD host Harlequins while Hermes meet the Ulster Elks who have to make the jaunt down to Dublin after their Pegasus date.
Milltown, meanwhile, is the venue for Catholic Institute’s second Dublin date, this time againast Loreto while Old Alex meet Lurgan
Railway Union are on the road up to Ards to face Pegs in a tie that could be a vital cog in how Pool A turns out. Ballymoney meet the host side.
In the women’s Irish Hockey Trophy, Lisnagarvey take on Greenfields on Saturday in Belfield.
Irish Hockey League Round Two
Women’s Pool A: Railway Union v Catholic Institute, Park Avenue, 2.30pm; UCD v Old Alex, Park Avenue 4.30pm; Ulster Elks v Pegasus, Lurgan, 2.30pm.
Women’s Pool B: Lurgan v Ballymoney, Lurgan, 4.30pm; Cork Harlequins v Ards, St Andrew,s, 2.30pm; Hermes v Loreto, St Andrew’s, 4.30pm.
Women’s Pool A: Hermes v Ulster Elks, Belfield, 4pm; Pegasus v Railway Union, Queens, 2pm; Loreto v Catholic Institute, Milltown, 2pm.
Women’s Pool B: UCD v Cork Harlequins, Belfield, 2pm; Ballymoney v Ards, Ards LHC, 4pm; Old Alex v Lurgan, Milltown, 4pm.
Electric Ireland Women’s Irish Hockey Trophy: Lisnagarvey vs Greenfields, 1.15pm, Belfield