Pegasus and Cork Harlequins face a make-or-break battle at Queen’s as the second and third placed sides in the women’s EY Hockey League in their respective title pursuits.
Both have ground to make up on UCD – who Pegs meet a week later – and any slip up would leave them needing snookers in the race for the regular season title and a European place.
The importance is not lost on Alex Speers who told the Belfast Telegraph: “The next two games are vitally important as we play UCD next and we certainly haven’t given up on winning the title rather than just making it into the play-offs.
“We are looking forward to playing both the teams above us at home and, after that, we only have one out-of-province match, away to Loreto.”
Speers is one of the league’s top scorers with seven, three behind Naomi Carroll, one of two Quins players along with Yvonne O’Byrne who hit 100 international caps on the trip to Spain this week.
Indeed, the two clubs are the two highest scorers in the league this season with both sides posing serious corner threats via Roisin Upton, Hannah Grieve and Shirley McCay directing things at the top.
Loreto meet Hermes-Monkstown for the fourth time this season. The Beaufort side have won the two meetings on the national stage, 4-0 in the league and 2-0 in the Irish Senior Cup while the Jacqui Potter Cup was a 3-2 win for the Rathdown-based club with Natalie Esteves scoring a hat trick.
For Loreto, Nicci Daly’s foot is in a protective boot following an injury sustained on Irish duty in Spain which saw her on the sidelines for the guts of the week in Malaga.
In the battle between fourth and fifth, Railway Union face Ards at Park Avenue. Both sides have picked up four points from six in 2018 with the Dubliners yet to concede in two league ties since the turn of the year.
They drew in the first half of the campaign and they are the two clubs with lowest aggregate scorelines this season, showing this one has the potential to be a very close-run thing. Indeed, the sides are well-acquainted with Ards winning their recent indoor final showdown.
At the bottom, Pembroke meet Trinity at Serpentine Avenue, gunning for revenge against a student side who earned their only win of the campaign against the purples.
Since then, the Ballsbridge club have been able to get international trio Aisling Naughton, Emily Beatty and Gillian Pinder into the same side at the same time and they could be a key factor in turning the tide.
They will need to be wary of the aggressive forward line of Niamh Sweeney and Sally Campbell. The students were promoted off the back of a tight defence but they have found things much tougher in that regard, conceding more than anyone else, something they will need to remedy to close the gap on Pembroke a place above them.
UCD are going on the hunt for an eighth successive victory when they go to Belfast Harlequins with a wealth of international players on either side.
Deramore Park has proven a stronghold this season with the host club unbeaten on home turf in five outings. Zoe Wilson and Robyn Chambers both did not feature in their league tie at Cork Quins a fortnight that ended with a late 4-3 defeat but they could return to make an impact.
Ellen Curran will come back into the fold for UCD who have conceded just once in five league games, shading three of those on a 1-0 scoreline.
In Leinster, Muckross will look to maintain their advantage following their breakthrough win over Old Alex last Saturday. Emma Mathews – while still young in relative terms – adds some extra experience following her return from UCD and injury.
Old Alex go to Genesis trying to keep the pressure on. Genesis need to get results from each of their upcoming series of games that features the top three in the next four weeks if they are to have any chance of nicking an EYHL promotion playoff spot.
That looks an improbability, though, and a loss could see their mathematical chance pretty much done. Corinthian take their unbeaten run to Clontarf where a win puts their playoff ticket ever closer. Glenanne host North Kildare while Rathgar face Avoca.
In the Irish Hockey Trophy, Bray and Three Rock battle it out for a place in the semi-final, ensuring one Leinster side will make it through to the final four.
Women’s weekend fixtures (Saturday unless states)
EY Hockey League: Belfast Harlequins v UCD, 2.30pm, Deramore Park; Loreto v Hermes-Monkstown, 1.15pm, Beaufort; Pegasus v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Queen’s; Pembroke Wanderers v Trinity, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union v Ards, 2.40pm, Park Avenue
Irish Hockey Trophy, quarter-finals: Bandon v Ballymena, 12pm, Bandon GS; Bray v Three Rock Rovers, 1pm, Loreto Bray; Catholic Institute v Belvedere, 3pm, Rosbrien.
Leinster Division One: Glenanne v North Kildare, 10am, Glenanne Park; Rathgar v Avoca, 2.15pm, High School; Clontarf v Corinthian, 3pm, Mount Temple; Genesis v Old Alex, 3.30pm, St Raphaela’s; Muckross v Our Lady’s, 1.30pm, Muckross Park
Munster Division 1
Saturday: Waterford v UCC, 2pm Newtown School.
Sunday: Limerick v Bandon, 2pm, Villiers.