UCD’s three in-a-row title credentials are likely to receive their sternest test this Saturday in Booterstown when they take on Hermes with both sides shy some internationals stars.
With a six-point lead at the top of the table, should the students avoid defeat, it would pretty much look like a cake-walk from here on in but they will have deficit of their usual firepower as Ireland take on Spain in Terrassa in the first of four international tests.Between them, Spain-bound Nikki Evans (15 goals), Anna O’Flanagan (11), Deirdre Duke (10) and Katie Mullan (7) have provided 43 goals this term already, putting the onus on the likes of Jeamie Deacon and Elaine Carey to find the net.
In addition, main creator Gillian Pinder and speedster Emily Beatty are also in Terrassa, leaving them set for a rejig up front but they will be reasonably settled at the back. Indeed, Niamh Atcheler’s return to action is a timely one, playing her first game of the season last Saturday in the win over North Kildare.
But breaking down a fairly mean Hermes defence is going to be tricky. There back six is packed with strong performers with Fiona Connery, Kerry McComish, Christine Quinlan, Megan Tennant-Humphreys and Sinead McCarthy capable of potentially absorbing Audrey O’Flynn’s absence from the defensive line.
Emma Gray and Sara Twomey are also away but they do have Aine Connery who looked sharp last weekend against Glenanne, scoring one particularly sweet effort to bring her seasonal tally into double figures – the largest total of any non-UCD player.
In the chasing pack, Loreto play their first game of 2014 without the midfield promptings of Ali Meeke and face an Old Alex side in good form with four wins from their last five games.
Pamela Smithwick is out for them as is Emma Duncan, leaving them shy a midfield dynamo but they still have lynch-pin Shirley McCay available to provide the aggression. Their corner team fired last weekend against Corinthian and should they be able to nab a few more set-pieces, they could cause problems.
Trevor Dagg, though, was pleased with how his side rolled with the punches in the first phase of the season after a large turnover of players at Loreto. The tightest defence in the league – equal with UCD – shows they will be a tough nut to crack.
For Railway, after nine players missed last week’s win over Pembroke, some return while others become unavailable for their date with Corinthian. Top scorer Kate Dillon swaps skiing for Spain with Ireland while Emma Smyth, Zara Delany and Orla Fox could come back into the fray. Kate Lloyd travels with Dillon, though.
Emer Lucey was superb at the back for the Park Avenue side in that Pembroke match while Ruth Hutchinson made a big claim to be included in the starting first team. Isobel and Cecelia Joyce, though, will be out until the end of Ireland’s T20 cricket world cup campaign.
For Corinthian, it is a tough day out as they seek to overturn a 6-0 home loss to the same opposition and they have not won since round three of the league. Sara Quill has been their star this term with close to half of their league goals to her name.
Pembroke play North Kildare as they bid to arrest a three-game losing streak after a largely positive start to the season. They got the better of the Kilcock side 3-1 early in the campaign but Kildare will be hoping they can use this tie as the catalyst for a strong second half of the season.A 2-2 draw at the same venue last season will give them confidence while Ali Bell’s continued good form between the posts could frustrate. She made a string of top saves last weekend before UCD eventually ran riot while coach Dean Maguire was pleased with how his side played in parts against an international-laden opposition.
Division two returns, too, this weekend with Pembroke II looking very much a sure bet for the title even at this early stage. They play second placed UCD II on Saturday but the timing probably suits as the student side will probably feel some of the knock-on effect of their first team’s Irish call-ups.
A win for Pembroke would lengthen their lead to at least nine points with a game in hand but they did bow out of the Jacqui Potter Cup so they will be wary.
In the race to be the top first team – and earn a promotion playoff berth – Genesis lead the way and face Railway Union II; Muckross host third place Loreto II while Three Rock will look to get back into the mix when they play Old Alex II.
Hermes II will aim to pull clear of the relegation slots when they host Trinity II.
Women’s Division One (Saturday): Hermes v UCD, 1.15pm, St Andrews; Pembroke Wanderers v North Kildare, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue; Loreto v Old Alexandra, 2.30pm, Loreto Beaufort; Railway Union v Corinthian, 4.15pm, Park Avenue
Division Two: Three Rock Rovers v Old Alexandra II, 11am, Grange Road; Pembroke Wanderers II v UCD II, 11am, Serpentine Avenue; Genesis v Railway Union II, 2.30pm, Belfield; Hermes II v Trinity College II, 3pm, St Andrews; Muckross v Loreto II, 4.30pm, Teresians
Women’s Senior International fixtures:
January 11: Ireland vs Spain, 6pm (Spanish time), Terrassa Estadium
January 12: Ireland vs Spain, 2pm, Terrassa Estadium
January 14: Ireland vs Spain, 12pm, Terrassa Estadium
January 15: Ireland vs Spain, 11.30am, Terrassa Estadium