Gemma Frazer has quit Belfast Harlequins after three seasons with the EY Irish Hockey League club and has joined Armagh in a shock move, writes John Flack.
It’s a huge boost for the ambitious Ulster second-tier outfit and, at the same time, a blow for Harlequins as Ireland midfielder Frazer had been one of their most influential players.
Quins had earlier lost World Cup silver medallist Zoe Wilson who has returned to Randalstown to act as player-coach.
To compensate, the south Belfast side have added Irish international twins Serena and Bethany Barr to their roster for the new season.
Frazer, an Irish Senior Cup winning captain with Ulster Elks before moving from Jordanstown across the city, like Wilson, is also returning to the club where she learned her hockey as a teenager.
The 24-year-old has nine Ireland caps and returned to the squad after two years out for four internationals against Chile in Santiago last January.
Since then though, it’s been a tale of disappointment as, like several other players, she has failed to make the cut for major tournaments.
She was part of the extended squad ahead of the FIH Hockey Series in Banbridge in June but was omitted in the first reduction from the initial 27-strong panel.
Whether her international career is over or not, Frazer says she is happy to be back at her former club, who have designs on a return to the IHL, having last played in the national league under its previous format six years ago.
She said: “I am very excited to be back playing with Armagh and I really enjoyed my previous few seasons with them.
“The club has aspirations to get back to playing top-flight hockey and I want to be part of that exciting journey.
“They have made some important signings to reinforce their ambition so we will all be working hard to achieve our goals.”
Armagh are coached by Ian Hughes, the brother of recently retired Northern Ireland football legend Aaron, who played for a long-time in goal for Cookstown.
Ian said: “We delighted with our summer signings so far and Gemma will be a huge addition with her vast experience and talent.
“Hopefully, the sleeping giant that is Armagh Hockey Club will now reawaken and recruiting Gemma will certainly assist the process.”
Armagh played at Irish Hockey League level from 2008 to 2012 following a remarkable series of promotions from the seventh tier in Ulster to the top under the tutelage of Mick McKinnon and Niall McCool.
The club produced senior internationals like Lizzie Colvin, Alex Speers, Emma and Amy Stewart, Leah McGuire (nee Ewart), Rachel Mulligan, Steph Thompson (nee Quinn), Hannah Bowe and Kerri McDonald.
Harlequins coach Phil Mills was naturally sad to see Frazer leave but not totally surprised by her decision.
He said: “We are obviously disappointed to lose a player of Gemma’s quality.”
“But she teaches in Fivemiletown so that was a three-hour round trip just to train twice a week and a major factor for her.”