The double-weekend means plenty of twists and turns for the women’s EY Hockey League with three unbeaten records being put to the test and six teams still covered by three points at this early stage of the campaign.
It means plenty of highlights, the stand-out one perhaps UCD’s date with Pegasus at 3pm on Saturday at Belfield. The Ulster side produced one of the performances of the season to date when they swept past Loreto 6-0 last time out.
It is a formidable line-up with the hugely experienced Shirley McCay, Michelle Harvey and Pamela Glass bossing a backline who have conceded just twice. Further up the field, Alex Speers and Steph Thompson have plenty of knowledge in the bank, too, to impart onto the likes of Katie McKee and Taite Doherty.
It is a line-up packed with senior and underage international caps. Next on their agenda is a shot at taking down the national champions who have had something of a mixed bag so far this season. They play on Saturday before Pegs take on Pembroke.
For the students, Katie Mullan was named international player of the year at the Causeway Council annual Sports Awards bash at the weekend having captained the Irish team during the summer in their run to World Cup qualification.
Cork Harlequins have Cliodhna Sargent back in the squad for the weekend and likely to play one of their two games on the road – either Hermes-Monkstown on Saturday or Belfast Harlequins on Sunday.
It is part of a planned schedule with London 2018 central in her thinking. The 209-capped Corkonian last played at World League Round 2 in Malaysia at the turn of the year, competing a week after she found out she was expecting.
With a gold medal and a big step in the World Cup qualification chain complete, Sargent took a step back; almost in tandem with Serena Williams and her Australian Open exploits.
In her absence, Ireland did enough at the World League semi-finals to earn their ticket to London 2018. Throughout her pregnancy, Sargent was working on a training plan with strength and conditioning coach Darren Collins to have her in the best possible shape.
“People have this thing that you have to completely cut back when you are pregnant. You don’t,” she told the Irish Examiner this week.
“All you have to do is take into account how fit you were before and reduce your load according to that. I was still running until five or six months and in the gym to seven months.”
Sargent says she is keen to make a push for the 2018 World Cup squad. Getting back into a team that has adapted in her absence – with Lena Tice and Zoe Wilson stepping up admirably in the centre of defence – will be a huge task but not something she will let go lightly.
“A World Cup is always something I wanted to be pushing for it and I still do,” she says. “I know it’s going to be very hard in so many different ways than what I have experienced.
“I have always been fit enough and able to maintain that. Now it’s different. I have gone through a huge body change.
“The added thing is being away from Dylan – going to tournaments will have its own hardships. He’s at the age where if I go away for two weeks, he will be completely changed. That’s the choice I make if I end up getting back into the squad.”
Cork Quins have clocked up the miles already this season. Their trips this weekend will be their fourth and fifth away dates in the league with just one home tie played so far.
For Hermes-Monkstown, it is part of a tough weekend with Ards also coming to the Merrion Fleet Arena as they look to get off the mark. They will look to the experience of Christine Quinlan, Rosie Carrigan and Irish Under-21 keeper Liz Murphy to set a base for a team that has struggled to find their feet since the departure of so many stars.
Ards start their weekend with a home date against a Trinity side who missed Isy Delamer and Rachel O’Brien last weekend, the former providing serious solidity in earlier games this term.
Keeping tabs on Chloe Brown is crucial. The Ards trickster was one of the stars of last weekend’s highlights package – produced by the transition year students of King’s Hospital – of the week’s action.
Ultimately, despite her mazy runs, Ards were unable to snatch the second goal required to come back against Belfast Harlequins who inflicted their first defeat of the season.
Loreto’s bid to bounce back from their loss to Pegasus encompasses two Dublin derbies, starting with trying to break down Pembroke who defended like demons against UCD last time out. Their weekend concludes against the Belfielders.
Railway Union doubled their points tally last weekend when they were too good for Hermes-Monkstown. Holly Jenkinson’s overlapping runs and Kate Lloyd’s willingness to shoot on sight played a part, two returning players who can make a big impact.
Their schedule sees Belfast Quins come to Park Avenue on Saturday and Trinity arrive on Sunday.
In Leinster, the top four sides all meet. Old Alex host Corinthian in what promises to be a cracking tie while Muckross travel a short way up the N11 to face Genesis.
EY Hockey League
Saturday: Ards v Trinity, 2.30pm, Londonderry Park; Loreto v Pembroke, 1.15pm, Beaufort; Hermes-Monkstown v Cork Harlequins, 12.30pm, Merrion Fleet Arena; Railway Union v Belfast Harlequins, 3pm, Park Avenue; UCD v Pegasus, 3pm, Belfield.
Sunday: Belfast Harlequins v Cork Harlequins, 1pm, Deramore Park; Hermes-Monkstown v Ards, 3pm, Merrion Fleet Arena; Pembroke Wanderers v Pegasus, 2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union v Trinity, 2.40pm, Park Avenue; UCD v Loreto, 2.50pm, Belfield
Leinster Division 1 (Saturday): North Kildare v Our Ladys, 12pm, The Maws; Old Alex v Corinthian, 1.30pm, Milltown; Clontarf v Avoca, 2.15pm, Mount Temple; Glenanne v Rathgar, 2.30pm, Glenanne Park; Genesis v Muckross, 2.45pm, St Raphaela’s
Munster Division 1 (Saturday): Bandon v Waterford, 2pm, Bandon GS; Belvedere v Cork Church of Ireland, 1pm, Ballincollig CS; Catholic Institute v Limerick, 12pm, Rosbrien; UCC v Ashton, 12pm, Mardyke.