Five regions hit the turf at Grange Road this weekend as the girls Under-18 and 16 interprovincials get underway with Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Connacht and the South East battling it out for the crown, each playing four games in a single table round-robin group.
The competition has moved from its previous October spot in the calendar, meaning more time for the national underage coaches to assess players with the additional benefit of less clashes with school commitments and club campaigns.
Ulster come into the weekend in great shape having won gold at the UK Schools Games, scoring 14 goals from four games, beating Scotland 4-0 and three English selections.
Banbridge’s Nadia Benallal scored the only goal of the final game against England Blue 1-0 while Olivia Mullan – younger sister of Irish captain Katie – was another key player.
“Confidence in the camp is high but we are not getting carried away about the inter-pros despite winning gold in Lougborough,” Ulster coach Robbie McMinn told John Flack.
“The tournaments have a different dynamic in that you don’t know anything apart from what you see at UKSG as you don’t come into contact with the opposition players really. In contrast at the inter-pros, the girls are playing against girls they know and have played with perhaps for Ireland and against, say in the U-16 inter-pros, Kate Russell or club in Irish competition.”
They are the reigning champions at this level but they will have plenty of tough games. Leinster are coached by Sarah Scott who have Nicola Torrans, Isabella Dunlop, Emma Paul and Caoimhe Byrne moving up to the Under-18s from the Irish Under-16s.
Goalkeeper Iseult Cambay, Amy Elliott, Grace Keane, Sarah McAuley, Ellie McLoughlin, Katie Jane Marshall and Lisa Mulcahy all in for a second year at this grade. Elliott played for both the Irish Under-18s and 21s during the summer while Marshall and Mulcahy were involved at Under-18 level.
Munster are coached by Darren Wilkinson who, in his early 20s, is one of the rising coaches on the scene. They finished second last year with strong wins over Connacht and the South East as well as drawing with the eventual champions.
Seven of the South East side is drawn from Kilkenny College, the school that won the All-Ireland Kate Russell Championships last spring while the Kelly sisters Hannah and Rachel could be playing in the EY Hockey League this year.
Connacht also made life difficult for Ulster last year in a close-run 1-0 defeat and they will look to make things tough in a similar manner this time around.
At Under-16 level, Leinster are the holders courtesy of four wins from four last year. Coach Gavin Groves has four of the side that won the Under-16 competition a year ago available with Irish underage internationals Milly Lynch – a key drag-flicker – and Robin McLoughlin along with Zoe Watterson and Lucy Crowe back for a second campaign.
He knows, though, they will get nothing easy from their rivals in what will be a completely new look line-up.
It all promises to be an exciting couple of weekends of quickfire fixtures with new stars emerging and lots of talent for the future on show.
Girls Inteprovincials (all at Grange Road, Rathfarnham)
Friday, September 21
Under-18: Ulster v Connacht, 2pm; South East v Leinster, 4pm; Munster v Ulster, 6pm
Under-16: Leinster v Connacht, 1.30pm; South East v Ulster, 3.30pm; Munster v Leinster, 5.30pm
Saturday, September 22
Under-18: South East v Connacht, 10am; Leinster v Munster, 12pm; South East v Ulster, 3pm; Leinster v Connacht 5pm
Under-16: Ulster v Connacht, 9am; South East v Munster, 11am; Leinster v Ulster, 2pm; South East v Connacht, 4pm
Sunday, September 23
Under-18: South East v Munster, 10am; Leinster v Ulster, 12pm; Munster v Connacht, 3pm
Under-16: Connacht v Munster, 9am; South East v Leinster, 11am; Ulster v Munster, 2pm