Six months since lockdown, the women’s EY Hockey League gets back into action on Saturday but not without one last talking point as the sport still comes to terms with the Covid-19 crisis.
Cork Harlequins confirmed on Thursday night they would not travel to meet Muckross, meaning this weekend’s card is reduced to four fixtures but plenty of intrigue.
Old Alex made perhaps the biggest move of the summer when landing Lena Tice to link up with a wealth of former UCD team mates – and World Cup medalists Nikki Evans and Deirdre Duke. They were within touching distance of the top last term and – should Abbie Russell find fitness – they are significantly bolstered for a title charge.
Their first contest is an away date to Belfast Harlequins who have also added a huge name to their line-up in Megan Frazer who is keen on getting game time in Olympic season. Bad news, though, for Serena Barr who has sustained a serious knee injury and is out for quite some time.
Irish Senior Cup winners UCD have had six days to turn things around with a new team following their success which deployed three of departing graduates.
They have a tricky road trip to Catholic Institute who have done well over the summer with three back from UCC and goalkeeping options with international experience as both Pam Smithwick and Hannah Humphreys have signed up.
Loreto already have two competitive 1-0 wins under their belt in the Jacqui Potter Cup and have added young forward fire in Nicola Torrans and Yasmin Pratt but will miss Sarah Twomey’s calm efficiency and Niamh Small’s experience as the latter starts her head coaching journey with Trinity.
Pegasus have a trio of players returning for this campaign and start off against an ambitious Pembroke side at home, boosted by Emma Buckley’s return to Ireland following two successful seasons with Racing Club de Bruxelles.
Saturday, September 26
EYHL Division 1: Belfast Harlequins v Old Alexandra, Deramore Park, 2.30pm; Catholic Institute v UCD, Rosbrien, 3pm; Loreto v Railway Union, Beaufort, 1.15pm; Pegasus v Pembroke, Queens, 4.15pm
Not being played: Muckross v Cork Harlequins
Women’s EY Hockey League
Last season (at lockdown): Tenth, Irish Senior Cup second round; Ulster Shield final
Coach: Phil Mills (2nd season) Manager: Roisin Walsh
Players in: Ella Agnew (Lisnagarvey), Emma Uprichard (Mossley), Rachel Johnston (USA), Megan Frazer (Ulster Elks)
Players out: Rhiannon Coulter (Queen’s), Abi Edwards (Armagh)
Overview/aspirations: “Unlike last year when we had no access to our internationals (and the Barrs were new signings), we have been able to train as a unit. Phil is happy to see progression. EY1 is a tight league with no margin for error as our results last season indicate.
“We know that it will be just as competitive this season and are excited that it will be a main match play outlet for our International players and therefore not as disjointed as previous seasons, particularly last year. Due to Covid and the uncertainties it brings, the default will be to play as much hockey as possible whilst we (safely) can!”
Of the new arrivals, Ulster Under-18 Ella Agnew played all her junior hockey with Quins but moved to Lisnagarvey in 2019/20 and rejoins. Emma Uprichard was part of the Belfast Royal Academy Schools cup winning side and an Irish Under-16. Both these young players are forwards and are bringing energy into the squad.
Megan Frazer, meanwhile, needs no introduction but the club did suffer a big blow on the eve of the season with news Serena Barr has sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Irish Senior Cup draw: UCC or Monkstown, November 28
Last season (at lockdown): Sixth, Irish Senior Cup first round;
Coach: David Passmore (2nd Year), Assistant: Ger O’Carroll; Manager: Brenda Moloney
Captain: Roisin Upton; Vice Captain: Laura Foley
Players In: Michelle Barrett (University of Massachussets), Aebhfhinn Bourke (UCC), Hannah Humphreys (UCC), Aine Ryan (Trinity), Lauren Ryan (UCC), Muireann Scanlon (UCC), Pam Smithwck (Old Alex), Kate Ryan (Crescent HC)
Players Out: Anna Horan (UConn Huskies, USA), Sophie Clein (exams), Nicole Griffin (exams), Jilly Edwards (exams)
Young Players to watch out for: U16 internationals Sarah Fitzgerald and Kate Ryan have fitted in well at training along with U19 triallist Becky Foley who has returned after an extended break with an ACL injury.
Overview/seasons aspirations: “The spine of the team will be key led by last year’s captain and sweeper Christine O’Shea and this year’s skipper Roisin Upton who brought an attacking threat to the team in the second half of last season after she return from the wrist injury sustained in the Olympic Qualifiers.
“The addition of four players from UCC, three returning to the club will add strength and depth which was lacking last year. After struggling to cope with the intensity of the league in the early part of the season last time out we are hoping that the form shown post Christmas can allow us to consolidate our EYHL1 status
Dave Passmore: “It has been great to have a larger squad to prepare with more intensity over the summer and fitness levels are improved on last time around which should allow us to be competitive. There is a great buzz around training and the players are looking forward to the season ahead.”
Irish Senior Cup draw: Armagh (a), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): Seventh, Irish Senior Cup first round
Coach: Darren Collins (3rd year) Manager: Vanessa Sargent (1st year)
Captain: Yvonne O’Byrne; Vice Captain: Michelle Barry
Players In: Siri Forde (Cork C of I), Niamh Sexton (Lock Haven, USA)
Players Out: Emma Barber (Cork C of I), Niamh O’Leary (Cork C of I), Becky Maye (Cork C of I), Alex O’Grady (Cork C of I), Nikki Barry (UCC), Sarah Murphy (UCC), Enya O’Donoghue (UCC).
Season Aspirations/overview: “We are looking forward to competing in the EYHL 1 league for another season after last year finished so abruptly. We have lost some very good players but have some promising younger players coming through and allied with our core of experienced players we hope to have a successful season.”
Irish Senior Cup draw: Loreto (h), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): First, Irish Senior Cup quarter-final; Jacqui Potter Cup winners
Coach: Paul Fitzpatrick (5th season); Assistant coach: Ian Clarke (second season); Manager: Anne-Marie Curran (6th season)
Players in: Yasmin Pratt (Muckross), Nicola Torrans (Corinthian)
Players out: Sarah Twomey (Monkstown), Niamh Small (coaching Trinity), Jessica Meeke (Corinthian)
Season overview: Competitive 1-0 wins over UCD and Pembroke in the Jacqui Potter Cup have given their preseason a boost, doing so without the services of big players like Nicci Daly and Caitlin Sherin. It has them in good shape to be one of the major contenders yet again with Ali Meeke and Sarah Torrans in red-hot form.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Cork Harlequins (a), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): Seventh, Irish Senior Cup second round; Jacqui Potter Cup third round
Coach: Simon Pearson (2nd season) Assistant coach: Anna O’Flanagan (2nd season); Manager: Freda Canavan
Players in: Louise McCollum (Trinity), Annabelle Sweetnam (Loreto), Becky McMullen (Clontarf), Katie Miller (GK, Railway Union), Catalina Paz Montino Mena (Hounslow & Barnes HC), Erika Hinkson (Old Alex)
Players out: Jessica McGirr (travelling), Nikki Keegan (year out)
Season overview: Simon Pearson – “Very positive preseason with an exciting group of new young talent using this time for them to gain experience as we look to build on some good results from last season. With Ellie McLoughlin thriving on the Irish senior call up and as with Sarah McAuley with the Irish Under-23s. Welcoming also Louise McCollum from Trinity who is a really strong addition to the squad.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Corinthian/Cork C of I (h), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): Third, Irish Senior Cup second round; Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-final
Coach: Niall Denham (2nd Season), Assistant Coach: Fiona Connery (1st Season), Manager: Chloe Bolton (1st Season)
Players in: Lena Tice (UCD), Abbie Russell (UCD)
Players out: Rebecca Evans (London for work), Paula Pena (Miami University Redhawks), Hannah Mangan (University of Albany), Erika Hinkson (Muckross)
Season overview: Manager Chloe Bolton states “The start of pre season was a slow burner due to injuries but the squad is fighting fit now and ready to kick off the season in Belfast on the 26th. Our squad has always been a force to be reckoned with and this year we have a few new faces in the pack such as Lena Tice and Abbie Russell to add an additional punch. We are very much looking forward to the season ahead.”
Indeed, Tice looks like the signing of the summer and adds to their array of international talent alongside Deirdre Duke and Nikki Evans while Aine Connery is back in the mix after a long-term injury. Within touching distance of top spot last season when lockdown fell, they are likely to be major players this season.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Pembroke (h), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): Second, Irish Senior Cup final; Ulster Shield winners
Coach: Greg Thompson (3rd season); Asst Coach: Andy Smyth (2nd season); GK Coaches: Jessica Perry (3rd season) & Neil Russell (1st season); Manager: Gerry McIvor (1st season)
Players in: Kate Gourley (University of Delaware), Amy Moheit (University of Richmond), Leah Paul (Ulster Elks), Emma Quinn (Ulster Elks)
Players out: Molly Dougan (University of Exeter), Charlotte Hart (University of Bristol)
Sesson overview: Plenty of strong players back in the fold with Kate Gourley returning after one year at University of Delaware while Amy Moheil (née Cook) is back after eight years with University of Richmond’s Spiders. Four warm up matches resulted in four good wins against Ulster U18s, Queens, Ards and Belfast Harlequins before last week’s Irish Senior Cup final.
Youngsters like Niamh McIvor and Olivia Berry will hopefully continue to thrive with the guidance of Shirley McCay, Ruth Maguire, Kerri McDonald, Steph Thompson Alex Speers and Michelle Harvey.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Railway Union (a), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): fifth, Irish Senior Cup quarter-final; Jacqui Potter Cup finalists
Coach: Gavin Groves (3rd Season), Assistant Coach: Stephen Brownlow (3rd Season), S/C: Sami Dowling (3rd Season)
Players in: Emma Buckley (Racing Club de Bruxelles), Sally Campbell (Trinity)
Players out: Laura Noble (Trinity), Jilly Ringwood, Sinead Loughran (returning after Christmas)
Season overview: Coach Gavin Groves: “The players had worked hard to maintain their fitness through the lock down. We have picked up wins over UCD and Muckross in recent friendlies. It was good to get a competitive game in before this week in the JPC Final.
“The atmosphere around the club is positive, we feel we have built a really good squad over the last few years, not just with some really good established players coming in but with the development of some of our younger players who are ready to take on important roles in the first team.”
Irish Senior Cup draw: Old Alex (a), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): ninth, Irish Senior Cup second round; Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-final
Coach: Una McCarthy (1st season); assistant coach: Gareth Myburgh; goalkeeper coach: Stephen O’Keefe; S&C: Darragh Curley; manager: Margaret Shaw; Video: Aaron Passmore, Tristan Stedham
Players in: Ailish Long (Trinity), Ali O’Leary, Jane Fennelly, Millie Regan (East Grinstead), Orla Patton (UCD), Sarah Patton (UCD)
Players out: Sophia Cole (UCD), Katie Miller (Muckross), Kate Sullivan (Trinity)
Season overview: Irish Senior Cup winners Orla and Sarah Patton are among a number of strong additions to the panel with Irish indoor international goalkeeper Millie Regan among them. Sophia Cole, though, will be a big loss in midfield. Una McCarthy takes on the coaching reigns.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Pegasus (h), November 28
Last season (at lockdown): fourth, Irish Senior Cup winners; Jacqui Potter Cup semi-final
Coach: Miles Warren (6th season), assistant coach: Keith Crawford (2nd season); manager: Marty Burke (6th season)
Players in: Rachel Kelly (Kilkenny HC), Sophia Cole (Railway Union), Eva Lavelle (Railway Union)
Players out: Lena Tice, Abbie Russell (both Old Alex), Sarah Patton, Orla Patton (both Railway Union), Suzie Kelly (Monkstown)
Season overview: Miles Warren: “Its been an extremely difficult and disruptive preseason due to having two competitive games on the two weekends prior to the IHL starting. This has meant potential new players can’t play in those games and made it difficult to play matches together as a new squad for 2020/21 season.”
Notwithstanding those issues, Warren’s side did land the Irish Senior Cup title last weekend and they have midfield options of Amy Elliott, Ellen Curran and Hannah McLoughlin that are the envy of the league with Sophia Cole adding to that mix, allowing Michelle Carey to move further up the field.
Irish Senior Cup draw: Glenanne/Banbridge (a), November 28