The season starts here: Irish Senior Cup raises curtain on new women’s season

The curtain on the women’s national stage tentatively raises this weekend with three Irish Senior Cup ties on the agenda as the EYHL lies in wait in mid-November.

It looks like reigning champions Cork Harlequins will have to defy even tougher odds than last term if they are to make an impact in the competition once again.

Irish Senior Cup holders Cork Harlequins. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Darren Collins’ side stunned Loreto to win the title for just the second time last spring but they travel to a strengthened Pembroke on Saturday for a tricky first round date.

Ingrid Burns and Olivia Roycroft both returned to Bandon while Irish Under-21 star Caoimhe Perdue has been co-opted by UCC. With ex-international Julia O’Halloran taking a break and Cliodhna Sargent recovering from an ACL injury, they face a big battle to get through the first round.

Pembroke, meanwhile, welcome current international Leah McGuire into the fold but they will not have access to Gillian Pinder and Emily Beatty due to the proximity of the Olympic qualifiers.

That is the reason why the EY Hockey League is on hold until November with up to four rounds of the Senior Cup to be played off before then.

The other first round fixtures pit Catholic Institute against UCD in Limerick, with the former welcoming back Naomi Carroll. The 111-time Irish international has been back training with the club since mid-August with her home club after four seasons – and an ACL injury – away as she hopes to reignite her international career.

She just missed out on the World Cup panel in 2018, playing in the final warm-up tournament prior to final selection for London. Soon after, she suffered her ACL playing ladies football for Cratloe and since then, the triple-star – who has played both football and camogie to country level – has been documenting her knee reconstruction via weekly videos.

It has been quite the journey, using many household items in her innovative recovery bid in addition to visits to the sports science department in UL and in Santry.

Naomi Carroll is back with Catholic Institute for the first time since 2015. Pic: Adrian Boehm

It has her in position to link up with Insta for their season opener on Saturday against UCD, a potential first step to working her way into national coach Sean Dancer’s plans.

She will link up with fellow international Roisin Upton in due course at Insta. The sweeper, though, is in camp with the Irish team along with Lena Tice and Ellen Curran.

Glenanne face Old Alex in the third tie with the latter coached this term by Niall Denham following a hugely successful spell with Three Rock Rovers.

Plenty of water has to pass under the bridge before the EYHL begins in earnest but here is our look at the women’s teams in the all-Ireland division.

Women’s EYHL – team by team previews

Belfast Harlequins

Last season: 8th EYHL, Irish Senior Cup quarter final, Denman Ulster Shield finalists

Coach: Phil Mills (1st season) Manager, Roisin Walsh

Players in: Bethany Barr (UCD), Serena Barr (Beeston), Natalie Barr (Lurgan), Julie Dennison (Exe, England)

Players out: Zoe Wilson (Randalstown), Gemma Frazer (Armagh)

Overview: With they women’s EYHL programme delayed until beginning November, coach Phil Mills – who switches from Ards to Quins this year – has had the luxury of time to develop a strong preseason squad.

Although there are two notable absentees from last season, the club retains a committed core of top level players and he can look forward to welcoming back Lizzie Colvin who is joined by current Irish international twins, Bethany (from UCD) and Serena Barr (Beeston). Natalie Barr also adds experience to the group and is looking forward to playing alongside her sisters again. Julie Dennison (nee Allison) returns from England to add to the midfield mix. Jenna Watt leads the front line.

Belfast Harlequins’ Jenna Watt. Pic: Adrian Boehm

The challenge is undoubtedly to keep the intensity high in the absence of league matches but the flip side is, they hope, the late start will offer a more cohesive programme of weekly matches once the league begins.

Catholic Institute

Last season: EYHL2 Winners, Munster Women’s Division 1 Winners, Munster Senior Cup Winners

Coach: David Passmore; Assistant Coach: Ger O’Carroll; Manager: Brenda Moloney;

Players In: Naomi Carroll (Cork Harlequins)

Players Out: Michelle Barrett (U Mass Amherst), Mariana Birdthistle (Lock Haven)

Overview: With Naomi Carroll back to full fitness after her ACL operation, she will be a threat up front for Insta and will no doubt be looking to impress Sean Dancer to work her way back into the senior panel. Mary Immaculate student Roisin Begley has been in sharp pre-season form and has some great midfield elimination and passing skills that could unlock defences.  At the back, club stalwart Christine O’Shea marshalls the defence and joins the attack.

Insta have a number of young players who have come through the club’s junior ranks and several from the successful Cresent Comprehensive senior team from last year.  Anna Horan has shown dynamism coming forward and Leah Clery has been lively up front.

It is the first time EYHL hockey has been in Limerick and coach Dave Passmore – who returns to the job to work with a talented group, some of whom helped Crescent win the Kate Russell last season – says: “We have no illusions as to the challenge we are faced with this season, our first in the EYHL but I have been tremendously impressed with the attitude and desire to develop that the players have shown to date.

“Losing forward Kym Daly to a long term knee injury means we will struggle for squad depth and will need to keep everyone fit and healthy.  We aim to make Rosbrien a tough place to come to and will need to be competitive in every game against the lower placed teams to maintain our top level status.”

Cork Harlequins

Last season: 4th EYHL, Irish Senior Cup winners

Coach: Darren Collins (2nd Season), Manager Eugenie O’Leary

Players in: Kate Murphy (goalkeeper from UCC)

Players out: Ingrid Burns (Bandon), Olivia Roycroft (Bandon); Saoirse Griffin (UCC), Caoimhe Perdue (UCC), Jane Murphy (study break), Enya O’Donohue (study break), Julia O’Halloran (break from hockey)

Loreto’s Sarah Evans. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Overview: It has been a summer of flux for the Irish Senior Cup winners as a series of strong players have decided to take a step away for the new season with Ingrid Burns and Olivia Roycroft returning to Bandon while Saoirse Griffin and Caoimhe Perdue have been co-opted by UCC.

With Julia O’Halloran taking a break and Cliodhna Sargent still out injured following an ACL injury, it will be a building period for this side as they look to get back to the heights of the past few seasons. There is still a good amount of quality in the side with Emily O’Leary, Rebecca, Michelle and Nikki Barry and Emma Barber leading the way with Yvonne O’Byrne the team’s spiritual leader while there is a tranche of young players who will endeavour to step up and make their mark.

Loreto

Last season: 2nd EYHL; EY Champions Trophy runners-up; Irish Senior Cup runners-up, 7th EuroHockey Club Champions Cup

Coach: Paul Fitzpatrick (4th season); Assistant Coach: Ian Clarke (2nd season); Manager: Anne-Marie Curran (5th season)

Players in: Lisa Mulcahy (Muckross)

Players out: n/a

Overview: Loreto look forward to the new season with their new water-based pitch in the pipeline following a frustrating campaign last year, finishing runners-up on three fronts. It has been a reasonably settled summer with defender Lisa Mulcahy the one addition to the line-up while none of the central panel have moved on.

Irish internationals Nicci Daly, Ali Meeke, Hannah Matthews and Liz Murphy give the side a serious backbone while Sarah Torrans, Caitlin Sherin, Christina Hamill and Siofra O’Brien are ones who could soon be following them into the national side. Indeed, there is a glut of good young talent at Beaufort with Mia Jennings, Sara Twomey and Grace McLoughlin part of a well rounded panel.

Muckross

Last season: 9th EYHL, stayed up via promotion/relegation playoff win over Queen’s; Irish Senior Cup quarter-final; Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-final

Coach: Simon Pearson (1st season); Assist Coach: Anna O’Flanagan; Manager: Freda Canavan

Players in: Anna O’Flanagan (Pinoke), Sinead McGirr (Loreto), Jess McGirr (Loreto), Nikki Keegan (Loreto), Jane O’Brien (UCD), Kate Hennessey (UCD)

Players out: Rachel Cuddy (Amsterdam); Niamh Gowing (Providence, USA; Yasmin Pratt (Monmouth Hawks); Lisa Mulcahy (Loreto); Grace Keane (UCD); Emma Dawson (UCD), Ellie Fitzgerald (Queen’s University, Charlotte, USA)

Muckross midfielder Emma Mathews. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Overview: Having survived in dramatic circumstances last May, Muckross are looking to build in their second year in the EYHL and, to that end, have made some eye-catching additions to the panel. Anna O’Flanagan is undoubtedly the star signing and she will give a sharp edge to their forward line, a real issue last term with just 11 goals from 18 outings in the league.

Sinead and Jessica McGirr – as well as Nikki Keegan – bring quality and experience to what was a young side last season. Their arrivals are timely with several of their young stars moving to university – either in Ireland or the US – for the forseeable future. Goalkeeper Ellie McLoughlin is an exciting talent to keep an eye on.

Simon Pearson moves up from the assistant coach role to take over the reins from Sarah Scott and he has enjoyed a productive pre-season which started back on 2nd August with a number of friendly games. He will be assisted by O’Flanagan in the coaching team.

Old Alex

Last season: 7th EYHL, Irish Senior Cup first round, Jacqui Potter final

Coach: Niall Denham (1st season)

Players in: Sarah Robinson (Derwent, Tasmania), Emilie Ryan Doyle (North Kildare), Liz McInerney (Hermes), Jeamie Deacon (Irish and Leinster Rugby), Orna Bools (Three Rock Rovers), Sorcha Cunningham (Muckross)

Players out: Leah Lenehan (Spain), Vanessa Winn (Australia), Emma Duncan (Australia), Hannah Kelly (Leaving Cert. commitments), Rachel Kelly (Leaving Cert. commitments), Amy Giblin (Avoca)

Overview: After a successful inaugural season in EYHL Division 1, they are looking forward to building on our promising 7th position last season. Key to their success will be Aine Connery who was a superstar in her return year to the top table, equal top-scoring with 12 goals and some virtuoso performances.

Along with Lisa Jacob, Emma Russell and Erika Hinkson, they have a good smattering of experience and quality which will be added to by the returns to action of Sarah Robinson, Liz McInerney and Jeamie Deacon who have won plenty of national titles between them with former clubs.

Old Alex’s Aine Connery up against Shirley McCay. Pic: Adrian Boehm

On the flip side, the panel is trimmed by the emigration of consistent performers like Leah Lenehan, Vanessa Winn and Emma Duncan. Niall Denham is the new coach following a hugely successful four year stint with Three Rock Rovers.

Pegasus

Last season: 1st EYHL, EY Champions Trophy Champions, Irish Senior Cup Semi-final, Ulster Shield Champions, Belfast City Council Sports Awards Team of the Year 2019

Head Coach: Greg Thompson (2nd season); Asst Coach Andy Smyth (2nd season), GK Coach Sharon Moffett (4th season), Manager Vanessa Beattie (2nd season)

Players in: Olivia Berry (Banbridge), Niamh McIvor (Mossley), Molly Dougan (Mossley), Charlotte Beggs (Rainey), Ella Armstrong (Pegasus Juniors)

Players out: Steph Thompson (Maternity leave), Kate Miller (Maternity leave), Grace Irwin (Retired), Kate Gourley (University of Delaware), Sarah Crompton (University of Stirling), Hannah Jemphrey (Glasgow University), Claire McKane (Cardiff University)

Overview: Last season’s dominant force, Greg Thompson’s Pegasus will have to adapt to a number of changes to their panel with midfield duo Steph Thompson and Kate Miller not playing this season while rising star Kate Gourley is among a quartet leaving Ireland for college.

Nonetheless, they still have loads of quality and know-how with Shirley McCay, Alex Speers and Michelle Harvey combining for hundreds of international caps while Kerri McDonald, Taite Doherty and Ruth Maguire are powerful performers.

Pegasus celebrating their EY Champions Trophy win. Pic: Adrian Boehm

With the addition of talented youngsters like Olivia Berry (from Banbridge), Niamh McIvor (Mossley) and Charlotte Beggs (Rainey), they should be there or thereabouts when it comes to trophy-time next spring. Preseason has gone well with wins over Ulster Elks, Lurgan, Ards and Banbridge while they look forward to playing their games on the new turf at Queen’s this season.

Pembroke

Last season: 5th EYHL; Irish Senior Cup round 3; Jacqui Potter Cup quarter final

Coach: Gavin Groves (2nd season), coach: Stephen Brownlow (2nd season), S&C: Sami Dowling (2nd season)

Players in: Leah McGuire (UCD), Aoife Glennon (Avoca), Rachel O’Brien (Trinity)

Players out: Katie-Jane Marshall (UCD), Iseult Cambay (Trinity)

Overview: Pembroke’s players have worked extremely hard in the off season, heading back into the gym earlier then planned, hoping they can close in on a playoff place this term. They were cruelly denied a spot on the last day of the season last time around by a 3-3 draw with Old Alex with Cork Harlequins leaping above them.

Pembroke’s Aisling Naughton on the attack. Pic: Adrian Boehm

They have made some really good additions with Leah McGuire linking up with international team mates Gillian Pinder and Emily Beatty. Rachel O’Brien will add some proven talent following her spell with Trinity and Pembroke feel they have more depth to the group this year with Jilly Ringwood and Rachel Scott returning to the group.

On the flip side, former St Andrew’s students and underage internationals Katie-Jane Marshall and Iseult Cambay have switched to college hockey.

Railway Union

Last season: 6th EYHL, Jacqui Potter Cup winners; Irish Senior Cup semi-finals

Coach: Dave McGivern (1st season)

Players in: Katie Millar (University of Michigan), Lisa McCarthy, Avril Dooley-O’Carroll (Pembroke), Rhiannon Evans (Whitchurch)

Players out: Holly Jenkinson (work), Kate Orr (Trinity), Anna-May Whelan (travel), Amy Elliott (UCD), Sarah Whelan (Trinity), Leah Paul (Trinity), Ailish Naughton (work), Maeve Reidy (work)

Overview: David McGivern has a number of new faces to embed into the Railway panel following his move from a good spell at Clontarf, helping the northside club earn promotion to Leinster Division One.

Railway Union’s Orla Fox. Pic: Adrian Boehm

They will have to cope without midfield dynamoes Anna-May Whelan and Amy Elliott while the steady hand of Holly Jenkinson will also be unavailable for the time being for work reasons. On the flip side, Lisa McCarthy is back in Ireland after a lengthy spell in the US while Avril Dooley-O’Carroll links up with former Trinity club mate Niamh Sweeney.

Sarah Hawkshaw has been superb in 2019 for Ireland and she will be supported by Katie Fearon who did well with the Irish Under-21s. Kate Lloyd, Orla Fox, Zara Delany, Hannah de Burgh Whyte and Emer Lucey make for a solid spine to the side who can cause plenty of issues for most opponents, particularly in their speciality – the Jacqui Potter Cup.

Grace O’Flanagan took a break last season but is now back in camp with the Irish senior women’s squad.

UCD

Last season: 3rd EYHL; EY Champions Trophy semi-final, Irish Senior Cup quarter final

Coach: Miles Warren (5th season); Coach: Keith Crawford (1st season), Manager: Marty Burke

Players in: Amy Elliott (Railway Union), KJ Marshall (Pembroke), Kirsty Coombes (Cork C of I), Grace Keane (Muckross)

Players out: Leah Ewart (Pembroke), Beth Barr (Belfast Harlequins), Anna Richardson (Avoca)

Overview: After a season of relative transition, UCD will be anticipating a major assault on the national titles this summer with Miles Warren hopeful the new players from last season will continue to grow after an extra season of development.

UCD’s Hannah McLoughlin. Pic: Adrian Boehm

There is bags of potential with Lena Tice a clear leader. Ellen Curran, Michelle and Niamh Carey, Katherine Egan, Suzie Kelly, Orla and Sarah Patton, Hannah McLoughlin and Abbie Russell have been added to by the all-action Amy Elliott in midfield while Katie-Jane Marshall is an exciting defensive option from Pembroke.

On the coaching front, Keith Crawford adds to the line-up along with Warren, bringing plenty of knowledge to the table. Expect them to be in the mix for silverware in the new year.

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