Loreto, UCD and Ards are facing to an epic close to the group phase of the women’s Irish Hockey League with all battling it out for the two semi-final spots on offer with plenty of permutations to play out.
Loreto, on 13 points, and Ards, two worse off, are in direct opposition at Beaufort with the Dubliners needing a draw to make it through to the final four.They welcome an Ards side on the brink of lifting the Ulster Premier League title after a 5-0 win over Portadown on Thursday evening when Emma Reid grabbed a hat trick and Chloe Brown scored twice.
It means that they are within two wins from four remaining games of the league amid an incredibly busy period of matches that has sandwiched a European trip to represent Ireland’s indoor concerns.
Loreto are a slick outfit at full strength but it has been a similarly busy week for schoolgirls like Lena Tice and Sarah O’Loughlin who helped their school to the Senior Cup final.
With a double club weekend on the table sandwiched in between schools cup semi-final and final within eight days, it is a big ask. Loreto need the minimum of a draw to progress while Ards need a win to keep their destiny in their own hands.
Otherwise, they need help from the already eliminated Ulster Elks who have the Irish Senior Cup on their mind. Ricky Lee’s Irish Senior Cup finalists host UCD in Jordanstown and while the result is immaterial for them, they will be jostling for places in that showpiece event.
To that end, they beat Belfast Harlequins on Wednesday night 5-1. A losing point could well do the trick for Johnny Harte’s UCD but, with his Irish international players in rude health, they have been ruthless of late, running up double figures twice already in February alone.
Indeed, they have scored 27 times in three games, illuminating how big a test the Elks’ defence will face.
Pool A is an exercise in box-ticking with Pegasus hosting UCC and Hermes playing Lurgan with the side who gets the best result, possibly winning by the largest margin, topping the group and a potentially easier semi-final. Railway Union face Ballymoney with little bar pride on the line.
Hermes, though, may have more than half an eye on Sunday when they are back in action in the Leinster league with a win over Loreto winning them the title for the first time since 2011.That will be their 15th game they have jammed into 2015 already despite only being nine weekends into the New Year, some going for a compact squad. Aisling Naughton was a significant injury loss last weekend for their Irish Senior Cup semi-final win at Cork Harlequins.
They face a Beaufort side who are the only outfit to have beaten them in any competition since last September – a 3-0 result at the end of January. Loreto’s need for three-points is acute if they are to earn a place in next season’s proposed IHL.
Pembroke could be out of range by that stage if they close out their league campaign with a win over Old Alex on Saturday but Railway would still be assailable, at least for a few hours, after their Monday refix against Glenanne was abandoned and put back to next week.
Railway face UCD late on Sunday afternoon with both looking for a slip from Hermes to make theirs a titanic showdown with the title on the line. For the Park Avenue, there is a double incentive with an IHL place to be copper-fastened.
Corinthian and Trinity complete their respective campaigns with a fixture at Whitechurch Park while Glenanne host North Kildare, the latter possibly facing a relegation playoff should the Ulster debate lead to any issues with formation of the expanded IHL.
That could have knock-on implications for division two with Muckross looking to nail down a playoff place while Genesis and Old Alex II are looking to avoid second bottom.
Alex have the form going into their final game against Avoca; it has been some turnaround as they have gone from waiting ten games for a win to winning four of their last five ties, a run only broken by a scoreless draw with the champions Pembroke II.
Women’s Irish Hockey League, Pool A (Saturday): Hermes v Lurgan, 2.30pm, Booterstown; Pegasus v UCC, 2.30pm, Queen’s; Railway Union v Ballymoney, 2.30pm, Park Avenue
Pool B: Greenfields v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Dangan; Loreto v Ards, 2.30pm, Beaufort; Ulster Elks v UCD, 2.30pm, Jordanstown
Leinster Division One
Saturday: Glenanne v North Kildare, 1pm, Glenanne Park; Pembroke v Old Alex, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Corinthian v Trinity, 2.15pm, Whitechurch Park
Sunday: Hermes v Loreto, 1.15pm, Booterstown; Railway Union v UCD, 4.30pm, Park Avenue
Division Two: Avoca v Old Alex, 2pm, Newpark; Rathgar v Muckross, 2pm, High School; Loreto v Hermes, 4.15pm; Pembroke v Genesis, 4.15pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union v UCD, 4.15pm, Park Avenue