While one of the women’s EYHL playoff places is all but boxed off for Hermes, the race for the guaranteed second and third place from the league is hotting up with as many as six teams still holding an interest.
Pembroke produced a smash and grab victory to beat Pegasus on day two of the league back in early October but they are facing a different animal this weekend.
Back then, the Ulster side were amid a run of four games without a result. Now, they are unbeaten in normal time since early December and have lost just once since the first week of November.Their momentum was stalled last week in the Irish Senior Cup on strokes by Ulster Elks but they created enough chances down the stretch that, on another day, could have seen them through.
It makes for a busy day for Caroline Murphy and Sarah Clarke for a Pembroke side who returned to the top four with wins in 2016 over the Elks and Greenfields.
With both sides locked on 19 points together in third and fourth place, this is a vital match for both teams in their pursuit of a playoff place.
Railway Union will be clear favourites when they meet UCC at Park Avenue having won 4-0 at the Mardyke earlier this season. Their press has been a particularly fruitful source of attacks with former UCC player Julia O’Halloran at the head of it with support, for the most part, from Kate Dillon.
The development of their youth players has been hugely impressive, too, with Michelle Carey credited with a number of assists while Katie Fearon has stepped up to good effect when called on.
UCC, for their part, fell 3-0 to Hermes last Sunday but their two previous games saw them beat Cork Harlequins and Greenfields and they will be anxious to make it out of the relegation playoff place.
An incredible statistic is that Hermes have four of the five top goalscorers in the division with Anna O’Flanagan leading the way, followed by Nikki Evans with Chloe Watkins and Naomi Carroll in fourth place. They have scored 17 more goals than anyone else in the division.
The one hope for their chasers is for some away day blues with their trip to Ards the first of six successive away games. However, Rudi Wortmann’s side only need 10 points from the remaining 21 on offer for them to win the league phase and claim a European place.
Ards climbed out of the relegation playoff place with a 2-0 win over Ulster Elks last week and backed that up with Senior Cup success against Railway Union.
UCD travel to Greenfields with the express intent of getting back into the race for the top three. They will take on that challenge without the services of Millie O’Donnell who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Ulster Elks will, more than likely, welcome back Megan Frazer after injury for their game against Cork Harlequins. The Irish captain has missed their last few games since coming back from Spain but is on the mend. Erin Hunter, though, is likely to have limited availability for the next few months due to a call-up to the South African national set-up.
Ricky Lee’s side will hope their success in the Irish Senior Cup a week ago will be a portent of good things to come after a run of four defeats in the league has seen them drop from the playoff places to seventh place and five points adrift.
Cork Harlequins are a point better off but are also on a losing run of two games, making this a potential eliminator for both sides hopes of battling it out in the post-season.
The Irish Senior Cup draw was made in midweek with Ulster Elks set to face UCD while Hermes host Ards. Like the men’s competition, the semi-finals will no longer be played over a finals weekend with the semis to be played on February 27.
The Irish Junior Cup sees both ties take place in Dublin; Loreto host Belfast Harlequins while Trinity await the winner of Ballymena and Queen’s.
Women’s EY Hockey League
Saturday: Pembroke v Pegasus, 1pm, Serpentine Avenue; Greenfields v UCD, 2.20pm, Dangan; Ards v Hermes, 2.30pm, Ards LC; Railway Union v UCC, 2.30pm, Park Avenue; Ulster Elks v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Jordanstown
Irish Senior Cup semi-finals (February 27): Ulster Elks v UCD; Hermes v Ards
Irish Junior Cup semi-finals (March 13): Loreto v Belfast Harlequins; Trinity v Queens/Ballymena