The new women’s Leinster Division One, which starts on Saturday, sees UCD once again in the box seat as overwhelming favourites for all the laurels.
With several full internationals in the panel and a glut of new arrivals with underage Irish experience, Jonathan Harte’s treble winners look to be one of perhaps three sides to have strengthened significantly over the summer.
The decisions of the likes of Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan, Jeamie Deacon and Sarah Greene to take a year’s grace means they hold a key quartet in their line-up and if anyone fancies taking a title off them, they will need to beat the students.
Pembroke and Trinity, meanwhile, are the other sides to have built on their encouraging 2013/14 season.
Trinity had a hugely positive campaign last season and the arrival of Niamh Sweeney, Sara Quill and Jenny Long from Corinthian gives them a significant boost.
A couple of departures on Erasmus have been eased by another couple of new arrivals but day one is a really tough ask as they meet student rivals UCD on the first competitive fixture at Santry Avenue’s new water-based pitch.
Both sides have had limited preseason time with full panels so this could be a tricky affair for both get into their groove.
Pembroke have six players in with Sarah Clarke returning after three years at Loreto to captain the side. With a couple of Leinster Under-21s moving across from Old Alex and three UCD players, they will be keen to break back into the upper echelons of the division after four years on the outside.
They can make a big statement of intent on day one when they meet Hermes on home turf. The Booterstown club have had a couple of significant departures with Sinead McCarthy returning across the water while Lisa Jacob is trying her hand in the Irish rugby setup.
With Irish panelist Sara Twomey also moving to UCD, they will be looking to youth to develop as they look to be in transition for Rudi Wortmann’s first year of his second spell as head coach.
Loreto are in a similar position with Caitriona O’Kelly, Cathy McKean, Louisa Healy and Rachel Keegan formally retiring. They could have Lizzie Colvin back mid-season after a lengthy spell out.
They start with what is now an almost annual season opener against Glenanne in Beaufort. Three emigrations – Rachel Lambe, Mary Waldron and Rachel Maunsell – has been offset by the return of Paula Fitzpatrick and Clare Shillington from rugby and cricket international duties.
Old Alex and Corinthian could be quite a tight affair at Milltown after the former – who finished fifth place last season – saw a large number of players move on.
With Shirley McCay returning to her home province, they have seen key players like Sarah Canning, Erika Hinkson and Laura Gray also move on while UCD have attracted a couple more.
Alex and the reds have been the Junior Jacqui Potter Cup finalists for the last couple of seasons and will look to develop that talent following their respective summer departures.
North Kildare host Railway Union, a tough start, but are boosted by the returns of Maeve Weld and Melissa Scott-Hayward. Railway saw four key players step out this season with former Irish captain Alex Speers (Pegasus), Sarah Hawkshaw (US), Orla Fox (Belgium) and Jean McDonnell (year off) the quartet.
Sarah Canning, though, is a strong addition. Whether it will be enough for last season’s main contenders to UCD to challenge for trophies remains to be seen, though, as the students look set to rule the roost once again.
Women’s Leinster Division One (all Saturday): Trinity College v UCD, 1pm, Santry Avenue; North Kildare v Railway Union, 1pm, The Maws; Loreto v Glenanne, 2.30pm, Beaufort; Old Alex v Corinthian, 3pm, Alexandra College; Pembroke Wanderers v Hermes, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue
Team by team previews
** Glenanne – The 2014/15 season sees several changes to the Glenanne line-up. The first major loss comes in the form of Rachel ‘Rambo’ Lambe from the goal line as she makes the move to life in Australia.
** Pembroke Wanderers – for the second season running, there has been a big incoming contingent. Sarah Clarke takes over as captain from Jilly Collins of the side, returning to the club having spent three seasons at Loreto.
** Railway Union our key absentees this year for Railway Union as Jean McDonnell takes a year out, Alex Speers returns to Pegasus Orla Fox moves to Belgium in addition to Sarah Hawkshaw’s departure to the US.