Weekend Preview

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Instonians moved to the top of the Ulster Premier League after a 2-0 win over South Antrim at Shaw’s Bridge on Friday night.


Ben Palmer broke the deadlock in the 45th minute after a great run by Mikey Watt and William Robinson sealed the win with a penalty corner strike 12 minutes from the final whistle.


A Jordan Robinson hat-trick enabled Mossley to jump four places and temporarily go to the top of the standings following a 4-1 win over North Down at the Glade on Thursday night.


After a scoreless first half, Robinson netted a tap in at the far post shortly after the restart to break the deadlock.
Then after missing a gilt-edged chance to double their lead, Mossley conceded an equaliser as Andy McKibbin converted a penalty corner with a drag flick.


The hosts then scored three times in the last seven minutes, Robinson with a clinical execution, after rounding the keeper, to make it 2-1. Ryan Lyall added a third goal with a sliding finish before Simon Todd’s assist found Robinson, who completed his hat-trick in the dying moments.


On Saturday, Kilkeel have the chance of leapfrogging Inst, as the champions take on Civil Service.


In the other games, Antrim have a tough one away to a North Down side anxious to bounce back from their defeat to Mossley while Portadown host Raphoe.


On the women’s scene, Queen’s, who have dropped only a point to date – from a draw with Lisnagarvey – have a chance to make up ground on leaders Lurgan, who have a day off.


The students take on top flight newcomers Ballymena at the Dub and will be confident of moving five points off the pace with two games in hand over Lurgan.


Dungannon are at home to Banbridge and a win would see them move up to fourth place while at the wrong end of the table the bottom two Rainey and Randalstown clash head on.


Meanwhile, Ireland’s World Cup silver medallists continue their preparations for the first phase of the Tokyo Olympic qualifying process over the next two weeks with eight Ulster players included in the squad that travelled to Chile for a warm weather training camp.


Graham Shaw’s girls set off on Thursday for a gruelling 22-hour journey involving flights to Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and finally the Chilean capital, Santiago. The first part of the trip will be used solely for training purposes before the squad plays four internationals in the space of five days against their hosts in the second week of the trip.


Chile should provide tough opposition, particularly in their own environment with temperatures expected to be in the low 30s centigrade. The South Americans are listed at 16th in the globe, eight places lower than Ireland, whose ranking soared following their silver medal heroics at the World Cup in London in August.


Thirteen members of that squad are included in Shaw’s panel, with Ulster pair Shirley McCay and Lizzie Colvin, among the absentees on this occasion. The Barr twins Serena and Bethany, formerly of Lurgan, and now with Beeston and UCD respectively, are set to win their first caps.


Returning to the Ireland scene after almost two years out are Gemma Frazer (Belfast Harlequins) and Ruth Maguire (Pegasus) and completing the local contingent are World Cup heroines, Megan Frazer, Ayeisha McFerran, team captain Katie Mullan and Zoe Wilson.


McFerran will be playing her first internationals since picking up the goalkeeper of the tournament award in London and she was subsequently nominated for the FIH keeper of the year accolade. Voting is now open and closes on February 14.


The other three World Cup players, who will be travelling to Chile, took part in the recent three-match uncapped series against Spain in Valencia where Ireland drew one of the games and lost the other two by a single goal. In London, of course, it was McFerran’s heroics in the penalty shoot out win over Spain that were instrumental in Ireland reaching the final which they lost to the Netherlands.


Wilson, meanwhile, has recovered from the hamstring injury that ruled her out of one of the recent unofficial internationals in Valencia and the Boxing Day Denman Ulster Shield final in which her Belfast Harlequins side lost on penalties to Pegasus.


The 21-year-old enjoyed the Spanish trip nonetheless and is looking forward to the games against Chile.
“Spain was a great trip, it allowed us to regroup and refocus by not only drawing our 2018 season to a close but also setting goals and targets for 2019 and our road to Tokyo,” she said.


“I’m really looking forward to Chile, it’s another great opportunity for us to play and train together as a squad. Chile are  a good side and every game we’ve played against them to date has been competitive.”


Wilson was among the players featured in the BBC NI documentary ‘Live like Legends’ charting Ireland’s incredible World Cup odyssey and she found it both an inspirational and motivational watch.
“It really brought it all back to me what a sensational summer it was and we are really focused now on gaining qualification for Tokyo which will be challenging but we are even more determined than ever to get there,” she added.


Ireland will be hosting the World Series event, most likely in Dublin, from June 8-16 when they will be up against lower ranked opposition as they bid to reach the final stage of qualifying for Tokyo 2020. Also taking part are Czech Republic, France, Korea, Malaysia, Scotland, Ukraine and one team still to be confirmed with the top two finishers to progress.


Ulster Premier League: Dungannon v Banbridge (2.30pm); Lurgan v Mossley (2.30pm); Queen’s v Ballymena (1pm); Rainey v Randalstown.

Senior One: Club KV 1 Raphoe 1 (played Friday); Armagh v Omagh (2.30pm); CI v Castle (2.30pm); Coleraine v Portadown (4pm); North Down v Priorians (2.30pm).

Ulster Premier League: Kilkeel v Civil Service (2.30pm); North Down v Antrim (2.30pm); Portadown v Raphoe (1pm).

Intermediate League: Ballynahinch v Saintfield (1pm); Down v Ballymena (2pm); PSNI v CI (2.30pm).

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