With over a dozen internationals on display, women’s EY Hockey League showdowns do not come much more enticing than Saturday’s massive date between Cork Harlequins and UCD at Farmer’s Cross.
It brings the league back into view for 2018 with a tie set to have a major bearing on the outcome of the title, even at this early stage of the campaign. Just a point separates the two sides at the half-way stage of the EY Hockey League with the reigning champions from Dublin with the upperhand.
They also have the benefit of a couple of Leinster senior cup games under their belt and some competitive indoor ties. Quins, meanwhile, have had a month of a winter break – something many others will be envious of given the inclement weather conditions – following their decision last summer not to take part in the Munster Senior Cup.
It means Stephen Dale’s panel is in full health but they struggled to find sides to play, hence their in-house games against the men’s teams – yielding a draw and a loss – to prepare for the biggest game of the season to date.
“It is a bit frustrating; we are not involved in the Munster Cup – that’s a decision we made – but there’s not much more we can do it about other than control the controlables. We just get on with it and tried to get as much done as we can.
At Belfield on the opening day of the campaign, Quins won 2-1 with a superb defensive effort, Emma Buckley and Roisin Upton frustrating UCD at every turn.
“Looking back, we got lucky and it was a good time to play them before they got into a rhythm. We rode our luck and took our chances but I don’t think it will be the same game. We are both up to speed now.”
The students will be without Irish international Ellen Curran due to an ankle ligament injury sustained before Christmas but Deirdre Duke, Clodagh Cassin, Katie Mullan, Lena Tice, Emma Russell and Leah McGuire are all in line to take on Quins’ six internationals.
A crucial factor could be the venue. Quins will enjoy home comforts for just the third time this season in 10 games. Dale says the glut of home ties coming up “should make a difference” in the run-in to the title but adds that the team’s mindset will be the decisive factor.
“It is still just a pitch and the home crowd can bring its own pressures but I am a firm believer that a lot of these games are won in the head if you go in with the right mentality, you back yourself and are confident.
“All the girls are very clever enough and are tuned in that they won’t take anything for granted [against UCD].
“It’s a tight, tight league. The teams in seventh or eighth can still take points off the top two; there’s no gimmes. Points will be lost between now and the end, I can guarantee that. And the run-in is very tight for top three and top four and it will come right down to the wire.”
Pegasus are waiting in the wings, five points off the pace but with a game in hand. Theywill fancy their chances when they travel to Santry Avenue to face Trinity.
Railway Union is another vital game in their respective pushes for a place in the top four and an EY Champions Trophy shot. Nicci Daly’s return from the US for the second half of the season will give Loreto an extra impetus but they will hope that there is not too much faitgue in the legs of Christine Hamill, Siofra O’Brien, Hannah McLoughlin and Caitlin Sherin from their schools Senior Cup game against Muckross Park in the morning with Loreto Foxrock.
Railway have an extra busy weekend as they bid to wrest the National Indoor Trophy title off Ards for the first time in seven years (Live stream will be available in the Youtube video
The Dubliners face Galway in their semi-final while Ards are up against a Glenanne side who have been bolstered by Irish internationals Niamh Small and Ali Meeke earlier in the competition but have an EYHL back match against Belfast Harlequins on Sunday.
Ards play Pembroke on Saturday in the EYHL with stalwart Naomi Grundie telling the Belfast Telegraph it makes for a big road-trip.
“We’ll stay overnight in Dublin on Saturday to be in the best possible shape for the indoor championship but the Pembroke game is obviously important as well.
“I wouldn’t say we are particularly confident for the indoor due to our relative lack of preparation. I know it’s a bit of an old chestnut but I really think it’s time to consider expanding the competition in Ulster, to be played over the winter weeks.”
Their qualification route came via a one-day, four-team blitz, while Leinster held a longer competition with action on four Sundays.
Belfast Harlequins, meanwhile, will hope they can finally start to get some flow to their season. They have played just seven league matches to date in the national league and also have to make up a round of the Irish Senior Cup, leaving them with plenty of double-headers on the bill.
It starts with an away date against Hermes-Monkstown on Saturday before Sunday’s tie with Loreto with Lizzie Colvin potentially lining out against her former club.
Five back matches in the Irish Hockey Trophy take the field with the weather set fair to see the second phase of the competition finally completed.
In Leinster Division One, Corinthian fought back from 3-1 down in midweek against Our Lady’s but still dropped a couple of points in their title pursuit.
Jessica McGrane put the reds one up as they held most of the ball in an intense first 20 minutes, one in which Niamh Mahon and her defence were in mean mood not to concede further.
The goal actually came in a rare Terenure spell on the front foot, breaking the line and winning a couple of corners but Corinthian broke out and McGrane scored with a very clever finish, hitting the ball into the ground with her back to goal and into the top corner.
But Our Lady’s stunned their opponents with the next three goals with Emma Kilbride striking twice form the top of the circle from corners and Aoife Kelly got another at the right post from a Kilbride strike, making it 3-1.
During this purple patch, Terenure also hit the post. Corinthians looked stunned and it was not till the last 12 minutes that they steadied the ship and pulled one back.
From then on, Corinthian turned the screw and got their equaliser with McGrane and Lynne Pomerory on the mark. The reds travel to Glenanne on Saturday for their next outing while Genesis against North Kildare is the most well-matched tie on paper.
Leaders Old Alex and playoff contenders Muckross will expect to win well at home against Clontarf and Rathgar, respectively.
Women’s fixtures (all Saturday unless stated)
EY Hockey League
Saturday: Cork Harlequins v UCD, 2.30pm, Farmer’s Cross; Hermes-Monkstown v Belfast Harlequins, 2.30pm, Merrion Fleet Arena; Pembroke Wanderers v Ards, 2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union v Loreto, 2.40pm, Park Avenue; Trinity v Pegasus, 2.30pm, Santry Avenue
Sunday: Loreto v Belfast Harlequins, 2.15pm, Beaufort
National Indoor Trophy schedule (St Columbas’s College, all Sunday)
Semi-finals: Glenanne v Ards, 11am; Railway Union v Galway, 12pm
Irish Hockey Trophy, round 2: Ballymena v Portadown, 2.30pm, Ballymena; Belvedere v Omagh, 2.30pm, Ballincollig CS; Bray v Avoca, 1.30pm, Loreto Bray; Three Rock Ladies v Waterford, 12pm, Grange Road; YMCA v Bandon, 1.30pm, Wesley College
Women’s Leinster Division One
Thursday: Corinthian 3 (J McGrane 2, L Pomeroy) Our Lady’s 3 (E Kilbride 2, A Kelly)
Saturday: Genesis v North Kildare, 1pm, St Raphaela’s; Old Alex v Clontarf, 1.30pm, Milltown; Glenanne v Corinthian, 2.30pm, Glenanne Park; Muckross v Rathgar, 3pm, Muckross Park
Munster Senior Cup, first round: Catholic Institute v UCC, 3pm, Rosbrien.
Munster Division 1 (Friday): Cork C of I v Ashton, 8pm, Garryduff.