Title rivals looking to stay in shape for February 15 showdown

Women’s weekend preview
Following last weekend’s results, February 15 now looks set to be judgement day in both the title race as well as for the Irish Hockey League wildcard berth.

Without their internationals, UCD faltered a couple of weeks ago against Hermes but bounced back with a strong away day win over Glenanne, the return of Nikki Evans giving them the firepower up front to land a 4-0 success. Leah Ewart has missed much of the recent part of the season but the students still hold a narrow two-point lead over Railway Union and three ahead of Hermes.

UCD's Anna O'Flanagan takes on recent Leinster U-21 call-up Millie O'Donnell Pic: Adrian Boehm

UCD’s Anna O’Flanagan takes on recent Leinster U-21 call-up Millie O’Donnell Pic: Adrian Boehm

On Saturday, they play an Old Alex side that they saw off comfortably in the return fixture – also 4-0 – with their speed on the counter attack the key factor. For Alex, their form is decent with three wins from four outings albeit against the bottom trio.

It has allowed them to sneak into the top half of the division and into the IHL wildcard playoff place and anything they can garner from this tie will be a big boost.

Four of their number were named in the Leinster U-21 panel during the week, showing their potential for the future. Erika Hinkson is in for a second season while Laura Gray and Millie O’Donnell strengthen the backline. Emma Russell is back in Ireland after spending the first half of the season in the US with Syracuse. She gave her side a cutting edge with a double against Loreto a fortnight ago.

Whether they can upset UCD – for whom former Alex players Sarah Robinson and Emily Beatty are also in the U-21s – remains to be seen.

Railway, meanwhile, host Glenanne at Park Avenue. Rachel Barnett has stepped in well between the posts for the Sandymount side since Grace O’Flanagan moved to Sydney for a few months. Five straight wins for Railway with just one goal conceded has seen them move right back into contention.

The Glens will have a tough time of it as they have had since the turn of the year with games against with ties against the top three in quick succession. Without Clare Shillington and Mary Waldron, they have been shorn of two strong operators while Kate O’Connor and Rachel Lambe have impressed and will have their hands full on Saturday.

For Pembroke, their tie with Loreto may represent a target for a bonus point against a top four side, especially given their 0-0 draw against the same opposition in the first series of games. With a very similar run-in to Old Alex, this is the kind of tie they need to grab points from if they are to put pressure on the Milltown side in their bid to get back into the IHL places.

In their remaining five ties, both Alex and Pembroke will play two top four sides and two in the bottom four while meeting each other on February 15.

For Chris Tyrrell and Keith Crawford, goalscoring has been an issue of late, scoring more than one goal just once in a league game since October. Defensively, they have been strong with Caroline Murphy, Maebh Horan and Stella Davis impressing of late in the back lines.

This week’s challenge against Loreto will be tough, though. While they succumbed 3-0 last weekend against Railway, they were encouraged by the performance, winning more corners and making more circle entries. If the likes of Hayley Mulcahy – a Leinster U-21 call-up – can get on the end of those chances created by Niamh Small and Nikki Keegan, life will be difficult for Pembroke.

At the bottom, Corinthian have yet to score in 2014 after three ties but will be gunning for a result against Trinity who got the better of them in the first half of the season.

Both sides were honoured with U-21 call-ups during the week with Trinity’s goalkeeper Charlotte Dunne rewarded for her efforts this term, especially in last week’s tie against Old Alex.

Anna May Whelan is their midfield dynamo while Avril Dooley-O’Carroll is another strong performer at the back. For the reds, Jenny Long’s speed and strength down the flanks earned her step up to the Leinster team while Carol McGowan has been nominated for Irish club player of the year.

Should Corinthian win, it should pretty much assure their place in the division for 2014/15 as it is hard to see North Kildare being able to make up a seven point gap, especially as they play an in-form Hermes who have ten wins from 11 outings.

Corinthian's Jenny Long is another Leinster U-21 call-up Pic: Adrian Boehm

Corinthian’s Jenny Long is another Leinster U-21 call-up Pic: Adrian Boehm

Sunday sees the Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-finals in action with Hermes game against Railway Union the definite show-stopper of the round. Three Rock Ladies and UCD II are the two division two sides left in the competition with the former hosting Pembroke at Grange Road while the latter go to Loreto. Old Alex face Trinity in the other quarter-final.

With the Irish Junior Cup second round taking place, women’s Leinster division two is limited to Trinity II to Old Alex II on Saturday while Hermes II play Muckross on Monday.

In midweek, Anywa Bowers’ goal was enough for Old Alex II to beat Three Rock 1-0, just their success of the season and puts them in within range of catching the Grange Road club.

Hermes II drew with Railway Union II 3-3 with the former’s UCD connection prospering with Caitriona McGilp and Christine Quinlan on the mark while pressure from Fiona Bradish helped force an own goal for the Booterstown club’s third goal.

In the IJC, seven Leinster teams are on the march with Pembroke II clearly representing the province’s best chance of success. They should have too much in the tank for division four side Genesis II after 11 straight wins in the league.

Leinster U-21 squad: Rachel Barnett (Railway Union), Charlotte Dunne (Trinity), Emily Beatty (UCD), Laura Gray (Old Alex), Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union), Erika Hinkson (Old Alex), Kate Lloyd (Railway Union), Jennifer Long (Corinthian), Orla Macken (UCD), Hayley Mulcahy (Loreto), Rachel O’Brien (Pembroke Wanderers), Avril O’Carroll (Trinity), Millie O’Donnell (Old Alex), Orla Patton (Hermes), Laura Pinder (Hermes), Sarah Robinson (UCD), Emma Russell (Old Alex), Anna May Whelan (Trinity)
Coaches: Keith Crawford, Chris Tyrrell
Manager: Michelle Heming
Leinster Division One (Saturday): Railway Union v Glenanne, 1.30pm, Park Avenue; Corinthian v Trinity College, 2.15pm, Whitechurch Park; Old Alexandra v UCD, 3pm, Milltown; North Kildare v Hermes, 3pm, The Maws; Pembroke Wanderers v Loreto, 4pm, Serpentine Avenue

Division Two
Midweek results: Three Rock Ladies 0 Old Alex 1 (Anya Bowers); Hermes II 3 (Christine Quinlan, Caitriona McGilp, own goal) Railway Union II 3

Saturday: Trinity College II v Old Alexandra II, 1pm, Wesley College
Monday: Hermes II v Muckross, 8.30pm, St Andrews

Jacqui Potter Cup (Sunday): Three Rock Rovers v Pembroke Wanderers, 2.30pm, Grange Road; Old Alexandra v Trinity College, 2.45pm; Hermes v Railway Union, 3.30pm, St Andrews; Loreto v UCD II, 4.45pm, Loreto Beaufort

Irish Junior Cup, round two
Portadown vs Queen’s University, 7.15pm, Edenvilla
Saturday: Cork Harlequins vs Corinthian, 1pm, Harlequin Park; UCD vs Ballymoney, 1pm, Belfield; Genesis vs Pembroke, 2.30pm, Belfield; Pegasus vs Trinity College, 2.30pm, Upper Malone Road; Belfast Harlequins vs Bandon, 2.45pm, Deramore Park; Hermes vs Loreto, 3.30pm, St Andrews
Sunday: UCC vs Cork C of I, TBC, The Mardyke

Women's Leinster Senior Div 1