Leinster challengers line up for new season – the women’s Division One runners and riders for 2017/18

While the EY Hockey Leagues are on hiatus once again, the Leinster women’s league does make its seasonal bow on Saturday with a full programme on the menu.

The aim this term will, once again, be the top three who will all go forward for the EYHL playoffs like last term and also nail down a place in next season’s Irish Hockey League Division 2.

Following the summer moves, Old Alex, perhaps, look the best equipped to make a case for promotion to the EY tier with some high profile additions. Nicky King is back at the coaching helm and she is assisted by Lisa Jacob who will also play this term.

Another marquee arrival is goalkeeper Jess Jecko, a US international who takes on the pads in place of Pam Smithwick who is taking the season out. Their first game is a date at Rathgar who survived last season via a playoff win over Clontarf.

Tarf, though, made it up in the end, in any case, courtesy of Trinity’s ultimate promotion. The Bulls finished fifth in Division Two and so will need to adjust quickly to the new level.

Nicky King is back in the coaching hot-seat at Old Alex. Pic: Adrian Boehm

The first competitive game for new coach Dave McGivern is one to try and target, taking on Our Lady’s who have Niamh Dennehy, Aisling Dolan and Aoife Kelly back in the panel after time out.

Muckross take on North Kildare in a potentially close run tie with Nicci Daly currently in the US for the first phase of the season. Glenanne and Genesis were both in mid-table last season, the former dropping away from the playoff places toward the end of the campaign.

The Glens will miss Audrey McCormack while Genesis do not have the experience of Fiona Connery to draw on as she moves to Old Alex, too. Avoca take on Corinthian at Newpark in Saturday’s other opening tie.

** You can read full previews for the majority of the clubs below

Leinster Women’s Division One (Saturday): Glenanne v Genesis, 11.45am, Glenanne Park; Rathgar v Old Alex, 12.30pm, High School; Muckross v North Kildare, 1.30pm, Muckross Park; Our Lady’s v Clontarf, 1.30pm, Terenure; Avoca v Corinthian, 2.30pm, Newpark


Last season: 8th Leinster Division One, Irish Hockey Trophy second round; Jacqui Potter Shield second round

Coach: Ronan Hickey (third season)
Players In: None
Players Out: Caitlin Sherin (Loreto), Siofra O’Brien (Loreto), Claire Byrne (Pembroke)

Overview: Having doubled their points tally last season, Avoca are hoping to push on and compete at the top end of the table this year. While there are no new arrivals, the club’s youth section continues to be a considerable source of talent.

Last season saw seven of the league winning U-16 side feature in the team and the young core should benefit considerably from having a year of senior hockey under their belt. The full availability of goalkeeper Ruth Murphy – the only player in the squad with significant IHL experience – is a big boost, while youth Olympic athletics gold medalist Sarah Healy is a dynamic presence in midfield.

The departure of underage internationals Siofra O’Brien and Caitlin Sherin to Loreto is a disappointment but has not taken away from a very positive pre-season. The squad has worked hard under conditioning coach Robbie Cannon, and close games with Genesis, Banbridge, Three Rock and UCD seconds – yielding two wins, a draw and a loss – have provided excellent preparation.

Last season: 5th in Leinster Division 2; promoted following Trinity’s promotion to the EYHL

Coach: David McGivern (1st season)
Players in: Eadaoin Moore
Players out: Nicki McMullen

Overview: The arrival of new coaches David McGivern and Stephen O’Keeffe led to a busy preseason period including matches against Railway, Pembroke and Three Rock and a tournament in Mossley Hockey Club.

Lorena Halpin Doyle will captain Avoca this season. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Becky McMullen, who played with Leinster U-16s last year, comes into the team.  The stated aim of the team is to finish in the top half of Division 1 in the first year as well as silverware in the Irish Hockey Trophy.

Corinthian – no details provided

Last season:  6th Leinster Division 1, Irish Senior Cup Round 1, Jacqui Potter Cup quarter-final

Coach: Ashley Harrison (first season)
Players in:  Emma Dobson (UCC) Doireann Shaffrey (Loreto Foxrock)
Players out: Catriona Lavelle, Kathy Armitage, Rachel Quirke (Studies), Rebecca Mahon (Canada), Joanne Lavery (Equestrian Internship), Aoife Henry (New Zealand), Fiona Connery (Old Alex)

Overview:  With a number of last year’s firsts squad opting to travel abroad or undertaking further studies, Genesis have a youthful look for the 2017-18 season. Under-18 players Sorcha McCooey, Kayla Phelan and Annie Kavanagh have all made the step up to Division 1 hockey this year, leaving the team with a balance of youth and experience.

The team will be lead from the heart of the defence by co-captains Laura Barrie and Evonne O’Farrell. Seasoned campaigners such as Julie Henry, Beth Fortune and Sorcha Cunningham are all lining out for another season. Preseason wins against Rathgar, Three Rock Rovers and Avoca – combined with new coach Ash Harrison’s enthusiastic fitness regime, taking over from Fiona Connery – mean that Genesis are raring to go at the season start.

Last season: 4th Leinster Division 1; Jacqui Potter Cup Semi-final

Coaches: Benjamin Epstein (2nd season), Sam O’Connor (1st season)
Players in: Niamh Lyons (Loreto), Elaine Griffin (Weston), Marie Buttle (returning from Canada)
Players out: Audrey McCormack, Lorna Stewart, Jessie Meeke (moved to Australia)

Overview: Glenanne’s ladies firsts will be captained by Marie Goulding for her second season, with Serena Rush stepping into the role as vice-captain. Ever enthusiastic Benjamin Epstein will be joined on the side-line by Sam O’Connor as assistant coach and Barbara O’Malley returning for her 15th year as manager.

With a strong preseason under their belts with solid performances against North Kildare, Rathgar and Three Rock, the Glens will be full of positivity going into their league opener against Genesis in Glenanne Park.

This team have lost some big players and will be looking to young stars Hannah Morrin, Hannah Delaney and Sarah Jane Kelly to fill the voids. Kate O’Connor will be taking up central role on the team and will look to use their skills and expertise to push the glens to top table positions.

They will also be relying on Rush to lead the defence with Niamh Ward, who will be returning from injury sustained in preseason in the coming weeks, and Anna Kerrison who have been so solid during preseason.

Roisin O’Brien will don the number 1 jersey this season after a fantastic preseason. The experience of Marie Goulding and Sarah Jane Kelly in the forward line will be needed as they are joined by an all-new forward line.

Last season: Second Leinster Division One; EYHL Round-robin playoff phase; Jacqui Potter Shield semi-final; Irish Senior Cup round one;

Coach: Sarah Scott (3rd Season)
Players in: Jane Fennelly (returning from USA scholarship); Aoife Flynn (returning from year out due to exams)
Players out: Katie Ronan (Drexel Dragons, USA); Claudia Cotter (University of Vermont Catamounts); Tara Junghenn (Erasmus); Debbie Young

Overview: Last season, Muckross reached the EYHL Playoffs following a second place finish in Division One.

In spite of a fantastic performance, they were narrowly beaten by Old Alex in the decider and did not advance to the final playoffs weekend. This season’s squad features strong underage international representation including Irish Under-16 internationals Lisa Mulcahy, Grace Keane & Natasha Twomey; Irish Under-18s Yasmin Pratt; and captain Sophie Barnwell on the Irish Under-21s panel. Star player Nicci Daly will be in the US for the first part of the season.

North Kildare
Last season: 5th Leinster league

Coach: Rowland Rixon-Fuller (second season)
Players in: none
Players out: Seana Carty (UCD), Hannah Jenkinson

Overview: Captained by Neassa O’Malley for a third season with support from Sarah O’Neill, North Kildare are looking forward to building on their highest ever finish in the Leinster leagues last term when they ended fifth.

To do this has seen them play several pre-season games including Weston men, Glenanne and Old Alex which have been challenging but a good test. Two juniors have come up the ranks to make the squad, Elena Teevan and Lucy Donegan, while Emily Ryan – one of the starting front three – hopes to return from a soccer ankle injury in a few weeks. Kathy Baker may struggle with commitments due to international rugby commitments.

Aideen Griffen will return from a hamstring injury while in the backline, Joanne Crowley is back after a broken collar bone and midfielder Rachel Neary is back from a knee issue.

Zimbabwean Megan Shaxon continues with the side for the first half of the season as they carry a positive attitude in the camp into the new year.

Old Alex
Last season: 3rd Leinster league, qualified for EYHL playoffs second phase; Irish Senior Cup round 1; Jacqui Potter Cup round 3

Coach: Nicky King (returning from a study leave) and Lisa Jacob (player /assistant coach)
Players in: Lisa Jacob (Genesis), Jess Jecko (Syracuse University), Fiona Connery (Genesis), Amber Gleeson (UCD), Rachel Gray (UCD), Anna Roopnarinesingh (returning from Erasmus), Sophie Moore (North Kildare), Bella Murphy (Catholic Institute), Hannah Kelly, Rachel Kelly (both South East U-16), Georgia Dunlop (Naas), Bella Dunlop (Naas)
Players out: Pamela Smithwick (maternity leave), Isy Delamer (Trinity), Katherine Egan (UCD)

Overview: A busy summer has seen Old Alex make some big additions to their squad with Nicky King’s return as head coach chief among them. Former Irish international Lisa Jacob joins her as an assistant and will also play while USA international goalkeeper Jess Jecko is a great replacement for Pam Smithwick who is on maternity leave for the season.

Their student exchange programme sees former Alexandra College senior players Amber Gleeson and Rachel Gray back in Milltown along with Anna Roopnarinesingh while recent graduates from the school Isy Delamer and Katherine Egan will push for places in the EY Hockey League with Trinity and UCD respectively.

They played Muckross as part of their centenary celebrations and won 4-1 while they lost 2-0 to Corinthian in other preseason action.

Genesis’s Laura Barrie in action last term. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Our Ladys
Last season: 9th Leinster Division 1; Jacqui Potter Cup first round; Irish Hockey Trophy quarter-final

Coach: Mark Lambe
Players in: none
Players out: Grace Jones (family commitments) Orla Gavan (moving to France)

Overview: Our Lady’s welcome back three long-term absentees with Niamh Dennehy (back), Aoife Kelly (knee) and Aisling Dolan giving the side a welcome boost for the new campaign.

Mark Lambe’s target for this season is to get in the mix points-wise with the mid-table teams. His side lost a few games by conceding a goal in the last minutes of matches last season and they hope to turn these into, at least draws, if not wins.

With a season in Division One under their belt, they will be better equipped mentally and physically to cope with the riggers of the league while they hope to take a step or two further in the Irish Hockey Trophy after two successive runs to the quarter-finals.

They had a stop-start preseason with player availability limited through different commitments. The side will be captained by Susan Kelly, supported by Karla Kennedy while Trish McGinley leads the fitness and conditioning side of things.

Last season: 10th Leinster Divison 1 (maintained status via a league playoff v Clontarf)

Coach: Sarah Gray (third season, second season as Head Coach); assisted by Ali Meeke (second season) and Stuart Malcolm (first season)

Players in: Louise Fahy (Galway), Nicola Whelan (NUIG), Rosie Shanahan (return from time away, previous Pembroke, NUIG and UCC), Cliona Sheehy (Cashel New Inn), Hilary O’Callaghan (Clontarf), Camille Christle (The High School), Kate Barry (Trinity), Siofra O’Brien (Railway Union)
Players out: Erica Porter (Old Alex), Sinead Dunne (Trinity) Cathy Harris (Trinity), Melanie O’Donovan (Three Rock)

Overview: Rathgar have had a very active preseason which saw them play in a tournament in Kilkenny with Naas and Old Alex. They have played Glenanne, YMCA, Genesis and Our Lady’s, a mixed bag of results which you would expect from preseason games.

On the plus side, Katie Smith and Rachel Cobbe return from injury but Nikki Levis, Caroline Goulding and Elaine Ross are stepping back from the squad while Ruby Keating is pursuing a place with the Irish Rugby 7s squad.

Olivia Cunningham, The High School Senior 1 captain, has stepped into the 1s squad this year and she will add a lot of flair to the squad with her Senior Premier league experience.

Coach Sarah Gray says of her panel: “The team has been very young but has gained experience over the summer. The team has worked hard over the last year, learned a few harsh lessons but are gaining in their division 1 experience.”

The squad will look to captain Doireann de Paor to lead from the pacy frontline with the likes of young Amy Byrne leading the backline. The experience of Ali Meeke, Stuart Malcolm, Andrew Jones, David Howard and Sara Quill will be hugely beneficial to coach Sarah Gray.

Women's Leinster Senior Div 1