Railway Union and Ards’ paths potentially intertwine on two fronts over the weekend as they face off in the Irish Senior Cup and, possibly, in the National Indoor Trophy final on Sunday.
It is a highlight of a manic weekend of women’s action with big games abounding in numerous different competitions with lots of intrigue on the line, particularly with the knowledge that some of the top stars may not be available for the final four of the cup.
It potentially opens up the draw for the sides who get to the last four. For Railway, Sarah Hawkshaw and Amy Elliott have been making strides with the national side but Ards have no such concerns for the semis and beyond. The pair drew in the last league game before Christmas, showing there is precious little between the sides.
“With the high-performance players not available from the semi-finals on, if we can pass this hurdle we strongly believe we can have a successful run and do well in this competition,” Ards’ Naomi McKnight told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Beating Belfast Harlequins in the previous round showcased the progress we have made.”
UCD take on Loreto in a mouthwatering tie with the hosts boss Miles Warren saying he has his first fully fit squad of the campaign.
“The first half of the season was quite disruptive with Ellen Curran and Hannah Mcloughlin both having surgery, Lena Tice away for everything bar one game and Abbie Russell being injured four games into the season. “
Ava Beatty is going away on Erasmus for the second half of the campaign having been an ever-present. Warren, though, is upbeat for the challenge ahead.
“We hope to get on a roll in training to get a good competitive and fun buzz going so that we can keep challenging to secure a place in the end of season playoffs.”
Muckross welcome Cork Harlequins to Donnybrook following their very close-run 1-0 defeat in Munster earlier this season.
For Sarah Scott, she says her side are on the rise following a strong 3-0 win over Old Alex in the Irish Senior Cup and a good run in the indoor.
“We are excited about the second half of season and know we have improved and learned from first half of the season. We know it’s going to be tough but looking forward to the challenge.”
They also put it up to UCD in the Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-final with Caroline Mathews excelling in midfield. Their Irish Under-18 central defence pairing of Sarah McAuley and Lisa Mulcahy have been superb while the speed of Sophie Barnwell and Yasmin Pratt mean they have a constant threat on the counter.
They do have to contend without Anna Scott who is in New Zealand while Emma Mathews has a hamstring issue.
From Quins’ perspective, Cliodhna Sargent says her side need to find a greater level of consistency in the second half of the season if they are to make an assault on the major silverware.
The Farmers’ Cross club finished 2018 in good form, rising to the top half of the EY Hockey League with three wins out of four outings, including that close run win over Muckross.
“We need to have our counter cover sorted at all times and be aware that they are fast in attack,” Sargent said, looking forward to the tie. “In our previous game, their goalkeeper [Ellie McLoughlin] played very well, so I would expect her to save any direct shots, which means deflections and back post will be key.
“I think we were very inconsistent in the first half of the season. We have definitely developed as a team as the games have progressed but we need to be able to consistently reproduce good performances.”
Pembroke host Pegasus at Serpentine Avenue following their productive first half of the season, one that saw them end in the playoff places.
Pegasus, meanwhile, will start slight favourites against a Pembroke side that includes Ireland World Cup silver medallists Emily Beatty and Gillian Pinder. However, captain Michelle Harvey says her team won’t be taking anything for granted, despite beating the Leinster side in a league match earlier in the season.
“We are looking forward to our second encounter of the season against Pembroke but the Irish Senior Cup always has a different vibe to the league with the added challenge of being knock out,” she said.
“It will be a very different match to our previous meeting. They had a few players missing and have gained a lot of momentum in their last few matches of the league. We didn’t perform in the final last year when we lost 4-0 to UCD and would love to have the chance to prove that was a one-off but we have a long way to go before we can even consider looking at the final.”
In Leinster Division One, Trinity took their midweek opportunity to move further clear at the top of the table with an 8-3 win over Our Lady’s.
It lifts them four points clear at the top of the table despite the students’ goals against jumping from one to four, a slight glitch for their impeccable defensive record.
Our Lady’s are still waiting for their first win in the league but have had much better form in the cups and they go to Portadown for the quarter-final of the Irish Hockey Trophy. They are one of two Leinster sides left in that competition with Three Rock hosting 2014 and 2015 champions Cork C of I.
Elsewhere in Leinster, Corinthian and Monkstown will aim to close the gap when they take on Genesis and Avoca, respectively.
The former duo have ten points to spare over the rest of the field in the EYHL2 places with Glenanne next best placed; they host Naas. Fifth plays sixth at The Maws where North Kildare take on Rathgar.
Irish Senior Cup – Quarter Finals: Pembroke v Pegasus, 2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Railway Union v Ards, 2pm, Park Avenue; UCD v Loreto, 2.50pm, Belfield; Muckross v Cork Harlequins, 1.30pm, Muckross Park
Irish Hockey Trophy – Quarter Finals: Omagh v Greenfields, 1pm, Campsie; Portadown v Our Lady’s, 2.30pm, Edenvilla SC; Raphoe v NUIG, 1pm, Royal & Prior; Three Rock Rovers v Cork C of I, 3pm, Grange Road
Leinster Division 1:
Wednesday: Trinity 8 (Erica Markey 3, Clodagh Fullston 2, Susie Osborne, Rachel Burns, Issy Delamer) Our Lady’s 3 (E Kilbride, A Kelly, S Kelly)
Saturday: Genesis v Corinthian, 2.30pm, St Raphaela’s; Glenanne v Naas, 1.30pm, Glenanne Park; Monkstown v Avoca, 2pm, ALD Merrion Fleet Arena; North Kildare v Rathgar, 1.30pm, The Maws
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Catholic Institute, 1.45pm, Ashton School; Limerick v UCC, 1.30pm, Villiers; Waterford v Bandon, 2.30pm, Newtown