UCD and Hermes-Monkstown in what is already a critical tie for the regular season women’s EY Hockey League title as the two unbeaten sides showdown on Sunday evening at Belfield.
For the students, with a four-point deficit, victory is already essential with this tie giving them the best chance of closing the gap to the leaders.
They have to do so without the services of Anna Richardson – joining Deirdre Duke on the sidelines – who could be out for up to two months following a knee injury sustained last week.
Miles Warren’s side face a bang in form Hermes-Monkstown have a perfect record across all the competitions with Anna O’Flanagan banging in 11 goals in her last three games.
She is likely to get much less change out of the UCD defence of Lena Tice, Emma Mathews, Sarah Robinson and Orla Patton. The students have several former Hermes players in their line-up like Sarah Patton and Gillian Pinder adding to the spice of the tie which is a fore-runner to their meeting in the Irish Senior Cup quarter-final.
Cork Harlequins will aim to keep their pursuit of the leading duo going. They play a Railway Union side looking to get back into form after one win in their last six league ties.
Fighting spirit, though, has not been a problem as they have twice come back from a goal down in the closing minutes to nick draws to stay right in the mix for fourth spot.
Robyn Chambers and Dawn Axon have rejoined the Ulster Elks from Pegasus, representing a huge boost for the club ahead of Saturday’s crucial clash with Pembroke Wanderers at Jordanstown.
Chambers, who recently made her senior international debut, decided to take a break from hockey after playing only six matches for Pegasus in her second stint at the club..
But her return to the Elks, along with that of Axon, who also has two Irish Cup medals and a European Championship gold in her locker, has come at the perfect time with Saturday’s vitally important game at the bottom of the table.
The Elks are currently just three points better off than Pembroke, who have yet to get off the mark, so with the two forwards back in the fold, they will be confident of securing only their second win of the campaign.
Ireland’s most-capped female international Shirley McCay, who is assisting Elks boss David Menaul, as player-coach, insists she’s enjoying the role despite an indifferent start to the season, after her team won those consecutive Irish Cups and the European title in the last two seasons.
She said: “This season has been hard but when you lose the number of players we have, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We have played well in patches but need to start games better so we aren’t on the back foot.
‘Of course, it has been a challenge for me but, personally, I am not someone who just chooses the easy route, or makes decisions based on what’s more comfortable and I’m enjoying the challenge.”
Belfast Harlequins, who like the Elks have just three points on the board, are also in action against Leinster opposition but won’t find it easy away to a Loreto side that has already drawn with Pegasus this season.
Paul Fitzpatrick’s Loreto nudged into fourth place in midweek with Hannah Matthews in defence and the midfield guile of Ali Meeke continuing to have excellent seasons. They played a central part in Wednesday on Railway and will be key figures once again.
The game between Pegasus and Ards in the late slot at the Dub is also vitally important to both sides, with the North Down side currently occupying fifth.
However, a win for Pegasus, who were runners-up last season, would propel them right back into contention and leave them only a point behind their opponents in what should be a closely-contested local derby. The game has the rare occasion of twins facing off against each other with Pegs’ Michelle Harvey taking on Ards’ Kerry.
In women’s Leinster Division One, Muckross jumped back above Glenanne on Thursday evening as Jane Gilsenan and Sophie Barnwell goals earned them a 2-0 win over Avoca.
It moves them to within a point of leaders Trinity and Old Alex with the Glens just three points off the pace in what looks set to be a big race for the playoff spots.
Trinity host Avoca on Saturday while Old Alex face North Kildare. At the bottom, Rathgar will hope they can get off the mark against an Our Lady’s side that are growing in confidence with two wins in their last four. Corinthian and Genesis is the other tie.
Women’s EY Hockey League
Saturday: Cork Harlequins v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Farmer’s Cross; Loreto v Belfast Harlequins, 2.30pm, Beaufort; Ulster Elks v Pembroke, 2.30pm, Jordanstown; Pegasus v Ards, 4pm, Queen’s
Sunday: UCD vs Hermes-Monkstown, 4pm, Belfield
Leinster Division One
Thursday: Avoca 0 Muckross 2 (J Gilsenan, S Barnwell)
Saturday: North Kildare v Old Alex, 12.30pm, The Maws; Rathgar v Our Lady’s, 12.30pm, High School; Trinity v Avoca, 1pm, Santry Avenue; Corinthian v Genesis, 3.30pm, Whitechurch Park
Irish Junior Cup, second round
Saturday: Avoca v Old Alex, 12.30pm, Newpark; Lisnagarvey v Genesis, 1pm, Comber Road; Muckross v Queen’s University, 1.30pm, Muckross Park; Banbridge v Cork Harlequins, 2.30pm, Havelock Park; Railway Union v Monkstown, 2.30pm, Park Avenue; Ashton v Loreto, 3.30pm, Ashton School; Pembroke v Pegasus, 4pm, Serpentine Avenue