At times, it would seem UCD’s toughest challenge this year for top honours appears to be registration rules. The Belfielders would have gone top on Thursday evening thanks to a high octane 2-1 win over Loreto at Beaufort but for the reversal of a Leinster league win over Glenanne because of an infraction.
And their bid for an Irish Hockey League semi-final place has also taken a big backward step after they were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in their 3-2 win over Ards back in October.In both cases, they could still end up champions but it certainly makes things a bit more tricky and any slip up against Greenfields on Saturday in the IHL will bring it down to a last day dust-up with Ulster Elks.
The Galways side, though, will have to go some to match Johnny Harte’s side if they play at the same tempo as the Loreto game. Against the run of play, Hayley Mulcahy finished off a lovely one-on-one goal but UCD were back level within five minutes via Gillian Pinder and Anna O’Flanagan swapped the lead before half-time.
O’Flanagan skewed a couple of chances for an insurance goal while Tiffaney Ellis made two top saves to keep the score that way but the pace of the tie was one of the highest of the season and a picture to watch.
The result lifts UCD into second place in Leinster, two behind Hermes, with three games to go with four points in hand over the sides below them in the race for IHL places next year. Their IHL points deduction, though, drops them below Loreto in Pool B, making for a fascinating final two rounds of the preliminary phase.
For the Beaufort side to remain in pole position, they need the full complement down in Cork against Harlequins. If Hannah Matthews maintains her form – she was exceptional against UCD in both distribution and defensive solidity – along with Nikki McConnell and Hayley Mulcahy up top and Lizzie Colvin in the engine room, they have the tools to get the best of Quins.
Waiting in the wings, Ulster Elks and Ards – Ulster’s leading pair this season to date – both will be gunning for a victory that will give them a potential direct playoff for the IHL semi-final places.
Elks nicked a huge 1-0 away win at Pegasus last week while Becky Weir’s hat trick underpinned a 7-1 win for Ards against Randalstown to show their current form.
Pool A looks simpler on paper with Hermes and Pegasus both sitting on ten points, three ahead of Lurgan. Should Pegasus win against their Ulster rival, they are guaranteed to go through while, if that result happens, Hermes will join them if they succeed at Ballymoney.
Money are not the force of old but did record their first home win of the season last Saturday in the Ulster league when experienced duo Nikki Parke and Bridget Cleland were on the mark.They will have their hands full, though, with marhsalling Hermes’ close knit pack who bounced back from their Leinster league loss to Loreto two weekends ago with two emphatic results last time out.
Railway have a very outside chance of going through but need to win in UCC and get favours from elsewhere if they are to get to another semi-final.
Their main focus for the weekend may already be on Sunday when they play Corinthian, knowing that a win will move them into a share of first place in the division.
On Saturday, Pembroke will hope to make their move into the top four when they travel out to Glenanne but know nothing will come easy against Kieran Bolger’s side. Trinity face Old Alex and Corinthian meet North Kildare.
Women’s Irish Hockey League (all Saturday)
Pool A: Ballymoney v Hermes, 2.30pm, Joey Dunlop Centre; Pegasus v Lurgan, 2.30pm, Queen’s University; UCC v Railway Union, 3pm, The Mardyke
Pool B: Cork Harlequins v Loreto, 2pm, Farmer’s Cross; Ards v Ulster Elks, 2.30pm, Ards LC; Greenfields v UCD, 2.30pm, Dangan
Leinster Women’s Division One:
Thursday: Loreto 1 (H Mulcahy) UCD 2 (G Pinder, A O’Flanagan)
Saturday: Glenanne v Pembroke, 12pm, Glenanne Park; Trinity v Old Alex, 1.45pm, Santry Avenue; Corinthian v North Kildare, 2.15pm, Whitechurch Park
Sunday: Railway Union v Corinthian, 4.15pm, Park Avenue
Saturday: UCD II v Old Alex II, 11.15am, Belfield; Genesis v Muckross, 1pm, St Raphaela’s; Loreto II v Rathgar, 2.30pm, Beaufort
Sunday: Loreto II v Old Alex II, 3pm, Beaufort; Pembroke II v Hermes II, 3pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union II v Avoca, 6pm, Park Avenue
Irish Hockey Challenge, quarter-finals: Gorey v Clonmel, tbc, Gorey; Athlone v Wexford, 1.30pm, The Bower; Blackrock v NUIG, 2pm, Ursuline Blackrock; Coleraine v Botanic, 2.30pm, Coleraine