Ards will be without experienced defender Naomi Grundie for Saturday’s win or bust EY Irish Hockey League clash with Cork Harlequins at Farmer’s Cross.
Grundie has just gone on maternity leave while Ards will also be missing injured midfielder Ali Carson,as they fight against automatic relegation. To add to Ards’ woes, Janice Heasley (formerly Vaughan), who came out of retirement to ease more player availability issues recently, will instead be concentrating solely on her main role as coach.
With head coach Phil Mills on holiday, Heasley will step into the breach, understandably feeling she has enough on her plate without combining the role with playing. Realistically, the odds are stacked against Ards, who have to take all three points to have a chance of securing a relegation play-off.
Even that might not be enough as nearest rivals Muckross, who are two points ahead, can relegate Ards if the Dublin side were to defeat UCD in their final game on Saturday. A 2-1 win for Muckross over the students a couple of weeks ago piled the pressure on the Ulster side and with UCD having played four games in as many days in Europe over the Easter holiday weekend, they may not be in the best of shape.
In addition, there is little at stake for UCD, who have already qualified for the play-offs, while the same cannot be said for Ards’ opponents. Harlequins need a win to have a chance of pipping Pembroke to the fourth and final spot and so there is no chance they will take their foot off the gas.
If there is one glimmer of hope for Ards, it lies in the fact Cork will be without experienced Ireland defender Cliodhna Sargent, who is out for eight months with a cruciate ligament injury.
Heasley said: “That’s obviously a big blow for them and it won’t do our chances any harm but you wouldn’t wish that on anyone and we wish Cliodhna a full recovery.”
“We realise we are still really up against it and losing 2-1 at home to Muckross a few weeks ago was a crucial defeat when, had we won, we would have almost certainly have been safe from automatic relegation.”
“That game really epitomised our entire season in that we let them in for two goals caused by our mistakes and couldn’t take our chances at the other end. All we can do now is go to Cork and give it our best effort but nobody expected us to beat Pembroke in Dublin a few wees ago, so you never know what might happen.”
In contrast to the game at the Munster venue, there is very little at stake at Deramore where champions Pegasus take on Belfast Harlequins, who cannot finish higher than eighth.
Queen’s, for whom Erin Getty hit a hat-trick in the midweek 8-2 win over Mossley are involved in the promotion play-offs for next season’s IHL and face Monkstown in the semi-finals with Catholic Institute taking on Trinity in the other tie in Dublin on Saturday. The overall winners on Sunday will go up and the losing finalists will face either Muckross or Ards in a play-off in Banbridge on May 5 to determine the other promotion place.
Queen’s coach Simon Bell said: “We have been playing two games a week for the last month and the girls have been terrific, generating momentum, showing real character on occasions and putting together a run of seven straight wins.”
“Our priority since August has been IHL 2 and we were really pleased with how we played in that competition, topping the group and setting up the play-off game. The girls are now really looking forward to the Monkstown game and the chance to test themselves against a former EYHL side.”
On the men’s scene, Cookstown are in desperate need of points if they are to avoid automatic relegation back into the Ulster League. They don’t come much tougher than Banbridge though as Cookstown set out to avenge their 4-1 Anderson Cup semi-final defeat.
“We’ve a tough match, there’s no doubting that, but I think we’ve put in enough good performances of late against the big sides to go into it with belief that we can win it,” said Cookstown skipper Greg Allen.
“We didn’t show it against Three Rock in our last league game, but we know that it’s do-or-die now. It won’t be for want of effort that we come out on the wrong side of this, I promise you that.”
“We need to keep our composure, stick to the game plan and, with a little luck, we’ll come out with the win to keep us safe.”
Going into the game, Cookstown sit at the bottom of the table on goal difference behind Cork C of I on goal difference as the Munster men host Three Rock. On paper, it’s a tough test but Rovers have been decimated for the game against a side they haven’t lost to in 20 years, with Luke Madeley in card trouble, Daragh Walsh doing an exam, David Kane suspended and a few others out.
YMCA – who are one point better off than the bottom two – are at home to Pembroke Wanderers, for whom there is nothing at stake.
Instonians meanwhile are involved in the play-off series to replace the bottom finisher in the EYHL – the prize at stake for the winners while the runners up will face a one-off game to determine the remaining berth in the top flight. Stephen Watt’s team face UCD in the semi-finals and are hoping striker Stephen Kelso wins his fitness battle.
The Sussex Regiment Cup semi-finals also take place on Saturday with Pool A winners Newry hosting Pool B runners-up Mossley and Pool B winners Civil Service entertaining Queen’s at Stormont.
Annadale v Lisnagarvey 2.30pm @ Strathearn
Cookstown v Banbridge 2.30pm @ Steelweld Park
Cork C of I v TRR 2.30pm
Glenanne v Monkstown 2.30pm
YMCA v Pembroke 2.30pm
UCD v Instonians 12.30pm @ St Columbas College
Sussex Regiment Cup Semi-finals:
NICS v Queen’s 2.30pm @ Stormont
Newry v Mossley 2.30pm @ Newry HC
Intermediate Cup Pool A:
Ballynahinch v Parkview 1pm @ St Colmans
Intermediate Cup Pool B:
Portrush v Ballymena 2.30pm @ Coleraine Rugby Club
EYHL (all 2.30pm):
Belfast Harlequins v Pegasus
Cork Harlequins v Ards
Muckross v UCD
Old Alex v Pembroke
Railway Union v Loreto
IHL 2 Semi-finals: (St Columba’s, Dublin)
Queen’s v Monkstown (3pm)
Catholic Institute v Trinity (5pm).
IHL 2 finals