UCD can take another massive step toward retaining the women’s EY Hockey League title this weekend if they can raid Pegasus on Saturday.
With a four-point lead already in place, this looks to be the toughest game remaining on their list with an eight-game winning streak under their belts.
It is one built around superb defence with no goals conceded in their last three outings and just one against in their last six.
Deirdre Duke misses the game due to law exams while Leah McGuire and Freya McDermott are out injured but Katherine Egan returns having missed the last outing with an exam.
For Pegasus, their 2-1 loss to Cork Harlequins was a hammer blow to their title chances and leaves them eight points adrift of UCD, albeit with a game in hand. As such, a win is a must if they are to harbour any title hopes.
Cork Harlequins are waiting in the wings and will expect to keep up the pressure when they face Hermes-Monkstown.
The Dubliners were finalists last year but a glut of departures – including Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan and Chloe Watkins to pro teams in Europe – has seen them fall to the bottom of the table.
They are, however, an improved outfit from the one Quins swept aside 4-0 in the first half of the season with South African Natalie Esteves giving them a corner threat while Sinead Loughran should be back after injury.
Whether they can contain Stephen Dale’s outfit, however, is another matter with Naomi Carroll, the EYHL’s top scorer, hungry for goals against her former club.
For Hermes-Monkstown, it is the start of a very hard run-in with two games against UCD and an away trip to Pegasus on their agenda, meaning their April 21 date at Trinity becomes ever more important.
Railway have made a move toward pinning down a top-four finish in recent times with seven points from nine with three successive clean sheets as the likes of Orla Fox, Holly Jenkinson, Emer Lucey and Grace O’Flanagan forming a very experienced wall.
Next for them is a tie at the talented Belfast Harlequins against whom they won a cracking 3-2 result last November with Jenna Watt and Zoe Wilson causing plenty of problems.
Trinity will look to nullify the threat of Chloe Brown when they meet Ards at Santry Avenue. She was central to the two goals the Ulster side scored in their 2-0 success on home turf but Trinity will be keen to try and get some points to give them some extra breathing room over Hermes-Monkstown.
Likewise, Pembroke are three points above the relegation playoff place and so will hope they can get something from their tie against Loreto at Serpentine Avenue to ease the nerves in the run-in.
In Leinster, the title run-in sees Corinthian with a tricky home date against the defensively robust Genesis, Muckross going to Avoca and Old Alex travelling to Glenanne.
While the top three will all contest the EYHL promotion playoff places, first place is hugely important when it comes to IHL2 qualification.
With the bottom three of the EYHL all Leinster sides, one will certainly be relegated, taking away one of the IHL2 places from the Leinster league sides. Should a second one fall through the trap door via the playoffs, then only the top side in Leinster this season will get an IHL2 spot.
Women’s weekend fixtures
EY Hockey League: Belfast Harlequins v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Deramore Park; Cork Harlequins v Monkstown, 2.30pm, Farmer’s Cross; Pegasus v UCD, 4pm, Queens University; Pembroke Wanderers v Loreto, 2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Trinity v Ards, 2.30pm, Santry Avenue
Irish Hockey Challenge – Semi-final: Dromore v Blackrock, 3pm.
Leinster Division 1: Glenanne v Old Alex, 12pm, Glenanne Park; Our Ladys v Rathgar, 2pm, Terenure; North Kildare v Clontarf, 2.30pm, The Maws; Avoca v Muckross, 3pm, Newpark; Corinthian v Genesis, 3pm, Whitechurch Park
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Cork Church of Ireland, 12.30pm, Ashton School; Catholic Institute v Bandon, 12pm, Rosbrien; Limerick v Belvedere, 3pm, Villiers; UCC v Waterford, 12pm, Mardyke.