After a five week break, the women’s EY Hockey League returns with many of the sides wondering how they can track down leaders Hermes who blazed a trail before Christmas.
Without their internationals, they still managed to make it through to the semi-finals of the Jacqui Potter Cup without conceding a goal, seeing off Pembroke and Muckross in the past two weeks.
They host a UCD side that perhaps pushed them further than anyone in the first half of the season, a last ditch Anna O’Flanagan goal undoing her former club to kickstart a run of nine straight wins in the national league.Miles Warren, though, has learned a lot about his new look side – with a number of them making graduating to Hermes last summer – already and was especially pleased with UCD’s performance against Railway last Sunday.
Indeed, he has a few selection issues after his wider panel tested their opponents without seven regulars as Sarah Robinson and Millie O’Donnell added to the international absentees. Without established players, they still managed to produce some fluid stuff while Hermes will be really aware of Aisling Naughton’s direct running in attack.
Railway Union travel down to Cork Harlequins for a key battle between two top five teams. The Dubliners are nine points off Hermes and three ahead of Quins who are in fifth. The Cork side started their 2016 with a 4-0 win over Waterford in the Munster Senior Cup with goals from Olivia Roycroft, Miriam Crowley, Aoibhinn Martin and Karen Bateman to build up to the tie in confident fashion.
UCC finished off the first half of the season with a surprise win over Quins and will hope they can carry that momentum through to their tie against Greenfields, the other side they beat before Christmas.
The Galway side’s manager Imelda Brennan will be honoured as one of Galway’s Sports Stars for her services to hockey. She says that while the first half of the season was tough for her side, they are giving it their all.
“We might be beaten but we are not disgraced. The girls love it and are really enjoying the high standard,” she told the Connacht Tribute.
She adds that her side is fighting hard to try and get on a par in terms of facilities amid tough circumstances with just one astroturf pitch available for club hockey in Galway, something that is curtailing the growth of the sport in the west.
“We are so short of facilities,” says Brennan. “We are in the All-Ireland League and when you travel around to all these places, the facilities they have! You would be envious. They are fabulous facilities.
“We are refusing kids because we just don’t have the pitch time. It is coaching on a Saturday for the children and we are sharing the pitch with Galway Hockey Club. They also have a huge underage no more than ourselves.
“So, you are trying to work out your underage sections and you can’t take everyone because you will get nothing done. There is only a certain amount of space on the pitch. We need another pitch.”
Nonetheless, the Galway side ended 2015 with their strongest performance against Pegasus with Brenda Flannery returning to the fold in great fashion and they will look at their UCC tie as an opportunity.Pembroke face the Ulster Elks who are waiting on the fitness of Shirley McCay and Megan Frazer who both picked up injuries while on international duty last weekend. Keith Crawford’s side bowed out of the Jacqui Potter Cup to Hermes 1-0 but were not at full strength and will have a stronger line-up for this tie.
Pegasus play Ards in an Ulster-derby with the former on the up while Ards have the threat of being brought back into the relegation playoffs at their doorstep.
Ards’ skipper Caroline Adams, though, is confident her side will pull away from danger in the second half of the season.
“We have no fears of relegation and are strong enough and have the belief to perform very well until the end of the season,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“In such a competitive league there are such fine margins and unfortunately we have been on the wrong side of a few.”
It is their first tie since before Christmas as the Ulster branch did not all EYHL sides to take part in their domestic cup competitions, leaving them shy of matches by comparison to their Munster and Leinster rivals.
In Leinster Division One, there are a couple of rapid-fire rematches. Old Alex play Loreto a week after the two side met in the Jacqui Potter Cup. The Beaufort side pulled away late in the game last week for a 4-1 result and will be bolstered by the return of Ali Meeke, Lena Tice and Hayley Mulcahy after their spell in Spain. Old Alex welcome back Pam Smithwick between the posts.
Rathgar will hope they can bounce back from their defeat to Genesis last time out with home advantage. Corinthian moved into sixth on their own on Monday evening with a 2-0 win over North Kildare and will hope they can further close the gap on the top five but face a tough trip to Trinity who are in range of the top three.
Muckross play Avoca while North Kildare will look to get their first win of the campaign against Glenanne.
Women’s EY Hockey League (Saturday): UCC v Greenfields, 1pm, The Mardyke; Hermes v UCD, 2pm, Booterstown; Cork Harlequins v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Farmer’s Cross; Pembroke v Ulster Elks, 2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Pegasus v Ards, 4pm, Queen’s
Leinster Division One
Monday: North Kildare 0 Corinthian 2
Saturday: North Kildare v Glenanne, 12.30pm, The Maws; Rathgar v Genesis, 12.30pm, High School; Trinity v Corinthian, 12.45pm, Santry Avenue; Muckross v Avoca, 3pm, Muckross Park; Old Alex v Loreto, 3pm, Milltown
Irish Junior Cup, quarter-finals: Muckross v Loreto, 4.15pm, Muckross Park; UCC v Trinity, 3pm, The Mardyke; Randalstown v Belfast Harlequins, 2.30pm, Antrim Forum; Queen’s v UCD, 1pm, Queen’s