While there are plenty of miles still to travel, UCC’s away day at Catholic Institute looks a potential decider for the students in women’s Munster Division One when they meet at 1pm at Rosbrien on Saturday.
Victory would extend Denis Pritchard’s side’s perfect record to eight wins from eight, five points clear having played their nearest rivals twice.
It would also assure – at the very least – a ticket to the EY Hockey League promotion playoffs. Miss out there, they will still take up a place in the inaugural Irish Hockey League Division 2 for 2018/19, something which Pritchard says is “a positive step” to closing the level between national and provincial leagues.
“The longer the current system continues, the bigger the gap would be to the EYHL from the provincial teams,” he told the Examiner. “There needs to be that stepping stone to make it achievable, not just as a target but also technically, physically and tactically.
“Even a couple of years in the second tier would help you develop your squad, knowledge and experience and then step up more comfortably.”
“It’s a key game. For us, Bandon took two points off them last week but that match will stand to Institute, playing a post-Christmas match which we haven’t. That has to be to their advantage and also them playing at home.”
Currently, the coach feels his side have the capacity to compete well with the best of the other regional leagues but are not quite ready – barring significant additions – to take on the EYHL teams.
As for the Insta game, UCC won the first meeting 5-1 at the Mardyke but Pritchard says a repeat scoreline is unlikely, saying the tie was “far from comfortable at any stage” despite the large margin.
For the Limerick side, Ger O’Carroll will be in the coaching role, taking the reins back over from Ollie O’Connor who stepped down this week.
She will not take a huge amount of time getting up to speed, though, having worked as head coach on her own and with Dave Passmore for several seasons.
“It’s a cup final,” is O’Carroll’s assessment. “In Munster, there’s a top four and a bottom four with ourselves, C of I, UCC and Bandon. Those matches are crucial and we’ve all had draws against each other which has played into UCC’s hands. So if we don’t beat them, we will be playing for second which could be tight enough.”
They take on a UCC side that will feature Jenny Clein, Clodagh Moloney and Aebfhinn Bourke who have all made the move down the N20.
It is a recurring theme for Insta that their finest talents move on with international trio Roisin Upton, Naomi Carroll and Rebecca Barry all with Cork Harlequins. Add in Aine Ryan at Trinity and their youth products could well be contenders on the national stage.
As such, reaching IHL Division 2 is crucial for O’Carroll’s troops to keep more of their talents in Limerick.
“There’s a big turnover that way and it hasn’t all come together at the same time for us. Our goal is a good run in the Irish Trophy and a minimum of getting into IHL Division 2.
“They are the two goals so that we can attract these players back. In fairness, those players were always well looked after by the club and, with other internationals in the past, they have always come back. They are trying to better themselves and we are delighted for them but it is part and parcel of hockey.”
In Leinster, the focus is on the second round of the Jacqui Potter Cup with the EYHL sides entering the fray. Hermes-Monkstown host Loreto while Railway Union face Trinity, a potentially close tie given their league draw at Park Avenue before Christmas.
Corinthian and Muckross meet in a tie between two sides destined for the EYHL promotion playoffs.
How they line out will be interesting; a large portion of players from both clubs were involved in the Senior Premier schools semi-finals on Friday while Muckross Park and Mount Anville are also playing Crescent on Saturday in friendly matches either side of the cup tie.
Sunday sees the Leinster indoor league group stages come to a conclusion with all games at St Columba’s.
Jacqui Potter Cup, second round (Saturday): Bray v UCD II, 12.30pm, Loreto Bray; Railway Union v Trinity, 12.40pm, Park Avenue; Corinthian v Muckross, 1pm, Whitechurch Park; Naas v UCD, 1pm, Caragh Road; Pembroke v Railway Union II, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue; Old Alex II v North Kildare, 3pm, Milltown; Pembroke II v Avoca, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Hermes-Monkstown v Loreto, 4pm, Merrion Fleet Arena
Leinster Indoor League (Sunday, all at St Columba’s)
Pool A: Railway Union v Genesis, 12.10pm; Genesis v Glenanne, 3.15pm; Railway Union v Pembroke, 4.45pm
Pool B: North Kildare v Three Rock Rovers, 1pm; Three Rock Rovers v Avoca, 1.45pm; UCD v Avoca, 4pm
Munster Division 1
Saturday: Bandon v Belvedere, 3pm, Bandon GS; Catholic Institute v UCC, 1pm, Rosbrien; Cork C of I v Limerick, 1pm, Garryduff; Waterford v Ashton, 12.30pm, Newtown School
Sunday: Cork C of I v Waterford, 12pm, Garryduff.