While the women’s Irish Hockey League’s Pool A was initially labelled the ‘Group of Death’, Ards shock win over UCD means Pool B is the most open of the competition with all six sides harbouring hopes of a final four spot.
The students bounced back in some style with back-to-back wins last weekend to head up the group on goal difference, buoyed by the return of Chloe Watkins and Niamh Atcheler to give their midfield extra zip and the defence a useful overhead and huge appetite in the tackle.
They travel up to Queen’s to meet Lurgan in the late game knowing that a win will probably trim their opposition from the list of contenders. The Ulster side, though, are an emerging force with the superb Barr twins – Serena and Bethany – showing an ability beyond their years while Charlene Hull possesses a dangerous corner strike.
Ards lie on nine points but have a tricky tie in Dublin against Old Alex who have Shirley McCay as the ace up their sleeve, netting her first two goals of the season last time out with a pair of spectacular reverse-stick shots. It helped them win over Lurgan to stay in the competition as they welcomed back a string of players.
Ballymoney are third and face a Cork Harlequins’ side in Belfast and will be hoping for no repeat of their Lurgan loss, falling 5-3 after leading 3-0.
In Pool A, the top two meet as Loreto and Pegasus showdown with the Beaufort side keen to win, not only to progress but to pile on the pressure on a dangerous Ulster champion side filled with experience.
Loreto go into the match with the same squad of 18 that came through their double header last weekend with maximum points. Nikki Symmons hamstring stood up to the rigours of two tough matches with no adverse reaction and Loreto therefore have a clean bill of health and a full squad to pick from.
Should Railway get the better of bottom placed Ulster Elks, they will profit hugely with at least one of their rivals set to falter, especially as they have met both of their main rivals already.
The Elks campaign has been plagued with injury and Louise Wright suffered a broken nose last weekend while they have been missing the services of Rachel King and captain Laura Wilson.
Railway’s important 1-0 victory over Pegasus last Sunday has kept them in contention for a top two finish, so they will be favourites for the four points this Saturday.
Hosts Hermes entertain travelling Catholic Institute, who suffered two defeats in rounds two and three last weekend. Institute have a young and improving squad but lack the depth and experience against the bigger sides.
Hermes need those above them to slip up to have any hope of qualification for the finals weekend, so nothing less than a win for them will suffice.
Women’s fixtures (all Saturday)
Pool A: Railway Union vs Ulster Elks, 3.30pm, Booterstown; Hermes vs Catholic Institute, 5.30pm, Booterstown; Pegasus vs Loreto, 3.30pm, Queen’s
Pool B: Old Alex vs Ards, 1.30pm, Booterstown; Ballymoney vs Cork Harlequins, 1.30pm, Queen’s; Lurgan vs UCD, 5.30pm, Queen’s