Two issues remain to be resolved on the final day of the women’s EY Hockey League with the last Champions Trophy spot and the relegation resolution on the line, writes John Flack.
The two issues intersect at Farmers’ Cross where playoff-chasing Cork Harlequins come up against basement side Ards who will be relegated if they do not get the three points.
Ards will be without experienced defender Naomi Grundie. She has just gone on maternity leave while Ards will also be missing midfielder Ali Carson who is injured.
Janice Heasley (formerly Vaughan), who came out of retirement to ease more player availability issues recently, will instead be concentrating solely on her main role as coach with Phil Mills away this weekend.
Even that might not be enough as nearest rivals Muckross, who are two points ahead, can relegate Ards if they were to defeat UCD in their final game on Saturday.
A 2-1 win for Muckross over the students a couple of weeks ago piled the pressure and with UCD having played four games in as many days in Europe over the Easter holiday weekend, they may not be the freshest.
Harlequins need a win to have a chance of pipping Pembroke to the fourth and final spot and so there is no chance they will take their foot off the gas but they will be without Cliodhna Sargent.
Heasley said: “That’s obviously a big blow for them and it won’t do our chances any harm but you wouldn’t wish that on anyone and we wish Cliodhna a full recovery.
“We realise we are still really up against it and losing 2-1 at home to Muckross a few weeks ago was a crucial defeat when, had we won, we would have almost certainly have been safe from automatic relegation.
“That game really epitomised our entire season in that we let them in for two goals caused by our mistakes and couldn’t take our chances at the other end.
“All we can do now is go to Cork and give it our best effort because we can only control what we do but nobody expected us to beat Pembroke in Dublin a few weeks ago, so you never know.”
For Pembroke, they can nail down fourth place with a win over Old Alex whom they drew with 3-3 against last month. With all the games taking place at the same time, there is little scope for relying on the results of others.
Elsewhere, there is little on the line at Deramore Park between Belfast Harlequins and Pegasus and at Park Avenue where Railway Union face Loreto.
EYHL2 also reaches its denouement with Queen’s facing Monkstown with Catholic Institute taking on Trinity in the other tie in Dublin on Saturday.
The overall winners on Sunday will go up and the losing finalists will face either Muckross or Ards in a play-off in Banbridge on May 5 to determine the other promotion place.
The latter tie pits the Munster and Leinster champions against each other with Insta having gone unbeaten in their EYHL2 group and only lost once – on the final day of the campaign to UCC – in Munster.
Trinity, meanwhile, went unbeaten in their domestic league, only conceding eight goals throughout their 18 game season. It suggests a potential blockbuster between two sides who have had superb seasons.
For the earlier semi-finals, Queen’s coach Simon Bell says his side has come into form at just the right time: “We have been playing two games a week for the last month and the girls have been terrific, generating momentum, showing real character on occasions and putting together a run of six straight wins.
“Our priority since August has been IHL 2 and we were really pleased with how we played in that competition, topping the group and setting up the play-off game.
“The girls are now really looking forward to the Monkstown game and the chance to test themselves against a former EYHL side.”
Women’s weekend fixtures
EY Hockey League: Belfast Harlequins v Pegasus, Deramore Park, 2.30pm; Cork Harlequins v Ards, Farmers’ Cross. 2.30pm; Muckross v UCD, Muckross Park, 2.30pm; Old Alexandra v Pembroke Wanderers, Milltown, 2.30pm; Railway Union v Loreto, Park Avenue, 2.30pm
EYHL2 – Semi-Finals: Catholic Institute v Trinity, Whitechurch Park, 5pm; Queens University v Monkstown, Whitechurch Park, 3pm
EYHL2 – Final: Whitechurch Park, 4.30pm