On the back of Ireland’s incredible World Cup journey, many of the players who returned home proudly wearing silver medals around their necks will be in action this weekend as the new EY Irish Hockey League season kicks off.
Around a third of the squad that did themselves so proud in London will continue to play on the continent or have since joined the exodus by moving abroad, among them three from last season’s regulation season champions UCD who meet Pegasus in Saturday’s top tie at Belfast High School.
Ireland captain Katie Mullan has been making quite an impact with German champions Club an der Alster, the Coleraine woman having bagged four goals already in eight starts for the Hamburg outfit.
Deirdre Duke has joined Düsseldorf while Lena Tice is another absentee after moving to play in New Zealand although she will return to UCD after Christmas, so Pegasus will fancy their chances of getting their campaign off to a winning start as they bid to avenge last season’s Irish Cup final defeat. Third in the regular season last time around, before losing out on penalties to Cork Harlequins in the play-off semi-finals, Pegasus, of course, can boast Ireland’s most-capped sportswoman in Shirley McCay, who made her 257th appearance in the green shirt in London. The Belfast club have also recruited international midfielder Kerri McDonald from Ards, which will compensate for the loss of Katie McKee to university in England.
In another change, Greg Thompson steps up to the head coach role, having last season acted as assistant to Ali McNeill, now in charge of Mossley men.
Four of the World Cup stars, two from each side, will be on display at Deramore where Belfast Harlequins host Pembroke Wanderers. Lizzie Colvin and Zoe Wilson will line out for the hosts with Emily Beatty and Gillian Pinder, heroine of Ireland’s semi-final penalty shootout win over Spain, included in the Dubliners’ squad. Linzi Hamilton has joined Quins from Ards to bolster up their defence as a ready-made replacement for Claire Kilpatrick, who is pregnant.
Ards, who face newly-promoted Muckross in Dublin on Sunday, have lost more players than they have gained with the defection of McDonald and Hamilton plus the earlier loss of Ireland striker Chloe Brown to East Grinstead with Emily Matchett, returning to the club from England, the only new recruit.
Saturday also sees the start of the inaugural second-tier IHL competition with Ulster champions Lurgan facing Monkstown, Queen’s up against Greenfields and Dungannon travelling to Galway to take on NUIG.
Ulster Premier League leaders Ballymoney entertain Mossley, Banbridge host Randalstown and the Ulster Elks kick off their campaign against Lisnagarvey.
Ballymena got their first win in three starts during the week when they crushed Rainey 6-0 with goals from Clare Gillespie (2), Kirsten Young (2), Becky Reynolds and Aimee Logan.
In the Senior Cup, Omagh made it two wins from two starts, defeating Club KV 4-2, with goals from Danni Darragh, Aimee Buchanan and Amy McCollum, Jo Orr getting both for the visitors.
It’s week two of the men’s EYHL with Cookstown and Banbridge hoping to build on opening wins when they take on Lisnagarvey and Cork C of I respectively.
However, bann coach Mark Tumilty says there is room for improvement, despite his team’s impressive 4-3 victory over last season’s Champions Trophy winners Three Rock Rovers. “The result was more important than performance but we need to better this weekend against Cork. We don’t have a good record against Cof I in recent years so it will be a really tough test for us,” Mark said. “I feel we have a good squad that can be competitive this year but will need to perform better than Saturday. I was impressed by Rovers, and as many have said they probably were favourites, it is good to have a three point advantage on them,early in the season.”
Cookstown were 7-1 winners over Monkstown last week but Garvey are likely to pose a more difficult test as they aim to bounce back from a 2-1 loss to Pembroke.
Annadale conceded four late goals when losing 6-2 to Monkstown and will also be aiming for a better result when they host Glenanne, who won the regulation season title last time around.
In the Ulster Premier League, Queen’s and Portadown will be out to make it three wins in a row when they take on Antrim and Mossley respectively.
WOMEN’S EYHL: PLAYER MOVES AND A LOOK AHEAD TO THE NEW SEASON FROM THE CAPTAINS AND COACHES
Ali Carson (Queen’s)
Robyn Larmour (Loughborough University)
Emily Matchett (Nottingham University)
Linzi Hamilton (Harlequins)
Kerri Mcdonald (Pegasus)
Chloe Brown (East Grinstead)
Becky Weir, Naomi McKnight (co-captains)
Co-captain Naomi McKnight: “After the success of the women’s national side in London its a very exciting time to play hockey in Ireland. Their success in the summer has certainly given the entire club inspiration and belief to achieve great things this season. With quite a few players returning from university and some very talented juniors moving up through our ranks we have a very positive team atmosphere and we are all are gelling well as a squad.
We are very excited for the return of the EYHL Teams to the Ulster shield. In our last two seasons in the Ulster league we were involved in the boxing day final and we hope to be involved again this year as it is always a fantastic day out for the teams involved. We hope to retain the Irish indoor trophy for another year as we look forward to our European adventure in February when the team travel to France. With regards to the league, we hope to compete and finish as high up the table as possible. Since losing a few experienced players we anticipate our younger players will take some time to transition but we are looking forward to the challenge. Last season was another good season for Ards finishing sixth in the table, an improvement on the 2016/17 season. We had some great games in the first half of the season and, unfortunately, a slight dip in performance post-Christmas meant we finished the season in sixth place. We also continued our success in the Irish Indoors beating a strong railway side to take a seventh all-Ireland title.”
Linzi Hamilton (Ards, previously Queens)
Claire Weir (returning after birth of child)
Laura Johnston (Lisnagarvey)
Jade Lamont (Nottingham University & Beeston)
Orlagh O’Shea (Old Alex)
Rebecca Mercer (Exeter University to complete final year)
Coach Davy Frazer: “After a successful summer for the Irish Ladies Squad, our club is on a real high. The aim this season is to break into that top four and go one stage further in the Irish Senior Cup. Having the addition of being back involved in the Ulster Cups is a big bonus. Overall we were generally generally happy with last season.Our aim was to try and break into the top four and we weren’t that far away. Too many dropped points from winning positions was our downfall so we must learn to see out games. Being the first Belfast Harlequins/Collegians team to make an Irish Senior Cup semi-final was a great achievement.
Player unavailability was also a theme throughout the season which disrupted performances. I am delighted with the new players (and returning) we have brought in. Linzi adds EYHL experience to our back line which has suffered the loss of key players. Claire Weir’s return will add strength to our forward line.
Kerri McDonald (Ards)
Hannah Grieve (Loughborough University)
Katie McKee (Beeston)
Coach Greg Thompson: “Our focus from the beginning will be on putting in good performances and developing individually and as a group. We’ve proved over the last number of years that we intend to be involved at the business end of the season, but certainly this squad is ambitious and will hope to push for silverware. For the EYHL clubs within Ulster, we have three different competitions (EYHL, the Irish Senior Cup and the Denman Shield) to play for. Last year was encouraging, but we hope to go one step further. We realise there are a lot of quality clubs pushing for the same goals, so we’ll have to peak at the right times. With the new season fast approaching, the squad’s excitement is building. The girls have worked hard during preseason and are eager to get started.”
EY Hockey League
14:30 Belfast Harlequins v Pembroke Wanderers @ Deramore Park
13:05 Cork Harlequins v Loreto @ Farmers’ Cross
14:00 Old Alexandra v Railway Union @ Alexandra College
16:00 Pegasus v University College Dublin @ Belfast High School
13:00 Queens University v Greenfields @ Malone Playing Fields
13:30 Trinity v Corinthians @ Trinity Sports Grounds
14:30 Lurgan v Monkstown @ Lurgan Junior H.S.
NUIG v Dungannon @ Dangan Sports Ground
Ulster Premier League
14:30 Ballymoney v Mossley @ Joey Dunlop L.C.
13:00 Banbridge v Randalstown @ Havelock Park
13:00 Ulster Elks v Lisnagarvey @ Uni. Of Ulster Jordanstown
Ulster Senior Cup (Sec A)
16:00 Club KV v Coleraine @ Malone Playing Fields
14:30 Omagh v North Down @ Campsie Pitch
13:00 CI v Armagh @ CIYMS Sports Ground
13:00 Raphoe v Castle @ Royal and Prior Sch.
EY Hockey League
15:15 Muckross v Ards @ Muckross Park School.
Ulster Premier League
20:30 Bangor v Belfast Harlequins @ Bangor Aurora
20:00 Raphoe v N.I. Civil Service @ Royal and Prior Sch.
Ulster Intermediate League
20:00 Portrush v CI @ Coleraine Rugby Club
Men – EY Hockey League – Round 2
14:30 Annadale v Glenanne @ Strathearn School
14:45 Banbridge v Cork Church of Ireland @ Havelock Park
14:30 Cookstown v Lisnagarvey @ Cookstown H.S.
14:30 Pembroke Wanderers v Monkstown @ Serpentine Ave.
14:30 YMCA v Three Rock Rovers @ Wesley College
Men – Ulster Premier League
14:30 Instonians v Newry @ Shaw’s Bridge Sports Complex
14:30 Kilkeel v North Down @ Kilkeel High Sch
13:00 Portadown v Mossley @ Edenvilla SC
14:30 Queens University v Antrim @ Malone Playing Fields
Men – Ulster Intermediate League
13:00 Armagh v Ballymena @ Ardmore Recreation Centre
14:00 Down v Ballynahinch @ Malone Park
14:30 PSNI v Parkview @ NICS, Stormont