The first national finalists of the 2014/15 season will become known on Saturday afternoon as Leinster leaders Hermes and Railway Union hit the road for the Irish Senior Cup semi-finals to meet Cork Harlequins and Ulster Elks, respectively.For Hermes, a potential quadruple is on the cards, an incredible feat considering the size of their panel. Indeed, it was only in the couple of weeks before the campaign started that they finalised their squad.
Those that have come in – notably Sinead Loughran and Aisling Naughton – have been hugely influential while the addition of Suzanne Kelly to the first team panel and recent arrival of Lauren Thomas has bolstered them further.
They joined a solid spine of a team, based around former UCD stars capped with the star quality of Aine Connery and Emma Gray. They have absorbed the loss of Audrey O’Flynn and despite working off one of the smallest first team squads, Rudi Wortmann’s side are looking to reach a second final in a week having secured a Jacqui Potter Cup title last Sunday.
In the Senior Cup, 2006 was the last time they won the competition when Wortmann was in charge, too. They face a Cork Harlequins side in a repeat of the 2000 final and are going to a venue where the hosts have lost only once in the past two seasons.
With Cliodhna Sargent and Yvonne O’Byrne at the back and the vastly experienced Rachael Kohler and Karen Bateman still in the mix, there is plenty of know-how on both sides.
In the other tie, for Railway, this is their one route toward earning back a European spot for 2016 having made the decision to step away in favour of Pembroke this year.
They face a tricky trip to Jordanstown to play the Ulster Elks who are bidding to play in their first ever final having reached the semi-final once before.
The Elks are going well in the Premier League up north, beating Pegasus a few weeks ago, to sit second in the table though the title looks to be heading Ards’ way.
Canadian players Steph Jameson and Sarah MacAuley are not available for them but, in Megan Frazer, the Elks have Irish hockey’s outstanding player at the moment while Shirley McCay provides excellent defensive grit and distribution from the back. Kirstie Lammey is the one to watch up front.
Railway travel north in good shape having gone unbeaten in four competitions since December 6 as Nasir Munir’s team have incorporated a glut of young players to their line-up.
Emma Smyth and Kate Dillon are back in the fold having missed last weekend and they can make a big difference.
In the Leinster league, Loreto, UCD and Pembroke will be aiming to put the pressure on in the title race when they play Old Alex, Corinthian and Trinity, respectively.Ards will represent Ireland in the EuroHockey Indoor Champions Trophy having won the third tier in 2014 with an unbeaten run in Budapest.
They received a big boost with Chloe Brown getting clearance to play in the competition having scored 22 goals a year ago. They start the competition in Vienna with a tie against hosts SV Arminen on Friday morning (11.10am) before facing Belarussian, Swiss, Croatian, Belgian and Scottish opposition.
The LHA, meanwhile, have confirmed the Jacqui Potter Cup will be played on its traditional date of St Patrick’s Day with Hermes facing Railway Union at Grange Road.
Both will be without their internationals for that final as the date is a direct clash with the World League, namely Ireland’s game against Turkey which is set to be played at 2.45pm on the day, potentially splitting crowds and reducing coverage of an event that usually draws good coverage in the national papers.
March 4, meanwhile, is an important date for the diary as the LHA will outline plans for next season’s league structure for the Leinster and South East divisions at Stillorgan Park Hotel. The outline will be followed by the annual Leinster open forum.
Leinster division two could well be decided this weekend. Old Alex II’s surprise 2-1 win over Muckross on Monday evening means Pembroke II need just one win from their three remaining games to retain the title. Indeed, if Railway Union II and Muckross draw this evening, the title will be theirs already.
Women’s Irish Senior Cup, semi-finals (Saturday): Cork Harlequins v Hermes, 2pm, Farmer’s Cross; Ulster Elks v Railway Union, 3pm, Jordanstown
EuroHockey Indoor Club Champions Trophy (Vienna)
Friday: Ards vs SV Arminen (Austria), 11.10am; Ards vs Ritm Grodno (Belarus), 2.40pm
Saturday: Ards vs Dundee Wanderers (Scotland), 11.10am; Ards v Rotweiss Wettingen (Switzerland), 3.50pm
Sunday: Ards vs Royal Antwerp (Belgium), 8.10am; Ards vs HAHK Mladost (Croatia), 11.40am
Leinster Division One
Saturday: Loreto v Old Alex, 12pm, Beaufort; UCD v Corinthian, 1pm, Belfield; Trinity v Pembroke, 1.45pm, Santry Avenue
Monday: North Kildare v Hermes, 8.15pm, The Maws; Glenanne v Railway Union, 8.30pm, Glenanne Park
Monday: Old Alex II 2 (S Gilsenan, S Haller) Muckross 1; UCD II 2 (M O’Donnell, L McGrane) Genesis 0
Friday: Railway Union II v Muckross, 8pm, Park Avenue
Saturday: Hermes II v Old Alex II, 1pm, Booterstown; Pembroke II v Loreto II, 1pm, Serpentine Avenue; Muckross v Avoca, 1pm, Muckross Park
Sunday: Railway Union II v Genesis, 4pm, Park Avenue
Monday: Railway Union II v Rathgar, 8.15pm, Park Avenue