Pegasus will start as strong favourites to lift the prestigious Denman Ulster Shield on St Stephen’s Day at Stormont but coach Greg Thompson won’t be underestimating local rivals Belfast Harlequins, write John Flack.
The teams haven’t met in the EYHL in the current season and the last competitive meeting between the sides came in the Irish Senior Cup semi-finals last term when Pegasus edged it 1-0 after a tight game at Deramore.Thompson’s team are going great guns in the EYHL and are top of the tree going into the Christmas break. Quins are still in the hunt for a play-off place but their form has been up and down so far.
Last Sunday at Stormont, Davy Frazer’s girls beat Ulster Elks 2-1 after Pegasus had been 7-2 winners over EYHL rivals Ards. So, it’s no surprise that Thompson’s team are expected to lift the prestigious trophy once again. But the Irish cricket international isn’t counting his chickens in the knowledge that cup finals don’t always go with the form book.
“The squad are looking forward to Boxing Day as it’s the first Ulster Shield we’ve been able to play in for a number of years,” said Greg.
“We’re delighted to be back in the competition, and it has been great in that we’ve been able to continue our strong start to the season without having too long a break, as well as being able to introduce a number of younger squad members and try a few things out.
“The semi-final versus Ards was pleasing as we did a lot of good things and hopefully we can put in a similar performance against a strong Belfast Harlequins team.
“We haven’t had the chance to play them since preseason, but no doubt they will go into the final confident following some good results.”
Quins’ coach Frazer is quietly confident that his team can belie their underdogs’ status next Tuesday as they approach their first Denman final since 2003.
However, he is mindful of the threat posed by Ireland World Cup star Shirley McCay, who scored twice in the semi-final win over Ards.
That result saw Pegasus exact belated retribution for their successive losses in the two finals against Ards before the EYHL teams were excluded from the competition. They have now been permitted to play in the Shield which is a tournament that dates back to 1896.
Frazer says his team’s performance last Sunday augurs well but is fully aware that Pegasus will be a different kettle of fish, despite a tough contest against Elks.“I’m extremely proud of the girls after their performance in the semi-final. The pressure was on us to win, with being an EYHL side,” he said.
“With a few players unavailable for various reasons, it gave a couple of our younger girls an opportunity to shine. Our match day squad contained eight Under 18s. The talent coming through at Harlequins is extremely encouraging for the future.
“Looking ahead to the final, Pegasus start as firm favourites as they are the form team in Ireland, but our last few games with them have been close encounters – two draws in the league and a 1-0 loss in the Irish Cup semi-final last year.
“I’ve a feeling penalty corners could play a big part in the game. Shirley is putting them away for fun this season but equally we have been scoring quite regularly as well, so both defences will have to be alert.
“Both teams like to play a direct attacking style of hockey so it augurs well for an open game with lots of scoring chances.
“For our girls, this is an opportunity to finally get our hands on a trophy. It’s been a very long wait.”