With eight of the Irish side that blitzed all before them in Malaysia at World League Round 2, Sunday’s Irish Senior Cup has the potential to be a modern classic as UCD meet Cork Harlequins at Belfield with a wealth of talent on display.
Indeed, the recent 4-3 classic played at the same venue on March 11 suggests as much with both sides going hell for leather in a free-flowing, wide open tie.
In addition to that win for UCD, most of the form indicators appear to be in the students favour, leading the EY Hockey League with an unbeaten record while they have won three of the four of the Irish Senior Cup finals they have played in since 2009.
Cork Harlequins sit 11 points back in the league and are contesting their first Senior Cup final since 2003, seeking their first win since 2000. They do have experience stemming from those deciders, though, with Rachael Kohler captaining the side in the victory while Karen Bateman led the side in 03.
The 42-year-old sisters-in-law have been joined this year by the well-travelled Rebecca Barry as a cup winner and she looks to retain the title having led the line for Ulster Elks 12 months ago.
And Barry told the Examiner that working with players like Kohler and Bateman is an inspiration.
“They’re a dream. Fantastic role models in every sense. Karen is so passionate, her will to win is like no other, while Ray is so solid and dependable. They help make the club what it is, and winning this cup for them is a big motivation for us.”
Barry is one of four Irish stars from Kuala Lumpur in the panel for Sunday along with Yvonne O’Byrne, Naomi Carroll and Roisin Upton but Cliodhna Sargent is not available for the final.
Bateman has been their leading light in front of goal this term, scoring 11 times with Olivia Roycroft weighing in seven times with Carroll providing much of the invention.
Speaking ahead of the final, Harelquins manager Robert O’Sullivan said of the challenge ahead: “We are under no illusions as to how difficult Sunday’s game will be with the talent available to UCD. Our two encounters this season have gone down to the wire and we expect Sunday to be no different”.
Indeed, UCD can call on a similar international quotient in Katie Mullan, Lena Tice, Gillian Pinder and goalkeeper Clodagh Cassin along with Emma Russell who was part of the recent trip to Bisham Abbey.
Of the 2014 cup-winning vintage, Duke, Mullan, Leah Ewart, Sarah Robinson and Pinder are all named in Miles Warren’s match-day squad for Sunday.
Mullan, Duke and Russell have combined for 39 goals all told this season with vice-captain Duke’s contribution’s particularly impressive given that she spent a couple of months out injured.
The students will miss Sally Campbell, though, who is out injured. They have lost just once in all competitions, albeit a chastening 7-0 defeat in the Jacqui Potter Cup final when they were shy their international players.
Speaking about his side’s chances, coach Warren said: “Our pace, quality in possession and absolute determination to never give up, no matter what the scoreline, will carry us through.”
Indeed, his side trailed 3-2 to Quins in the league going into the final quarter and he says that tie is an indicator of a top class final in the offing.
“That was a real high quality exhibition of attacking by both teams so we know they will pose a big threat to our goal.”
Elsewhere, Hermes-Monkstown travel to Pegasus for a back-match in the EY Hockey League. A win for Rudi Wortmann’s side will lift them above UCD going into their league decider with the students on April 8.
In Leinster, Rathgar meet Clontarf in a promotion-relegation playoff at Sutton Park with a potential place in Division One next season on the line.
Cork Harlequins (squad): E Buckley, Y O’Byrne, D Burkley, R Kohler, N Kerr, N Carroll, K Bateman, O Roycroft, K Gaffney, I Burns, N Sexton, E Cripps, M Barry, R Barry, R Upton, C Perdue, L Geyer, L Bateman. Coach: Stephen Dale.
UCD (squad): C Cassin, N Cooke, S Twomey, A Russell, L Ewart, S O’Loughlin, E Duncan, S Clarke, O Patton, E Matthews, E Russell, S Patton, G Pinder, L Tice, K Mullan, M O’Donnell, D Duke, S Robinson. Coach: Miles Warren.
Irish Senior Cup final (Sunday): UCD v Cork Harlequins, 1pm, Belfield
EY Hockey League (Saturday): Pegasus v Hermes-Monkstown, 1pm, Jordanstown
Leinster Division 1/2 playoff (Saturday): Rathgar v Clontarf, 12.15pm, Sutton Park