McConnell relishing Boxing Day showpiece

Pegasus' Kate McConnell

Pegasus' Kate McConnell

Having passed one set of examinations last week Pegasus captain Kate McConnell will be hoping to be successful in another one on Boxing Day when her team take on Ards in the Denman Ulster Shield final at Comber Road (1.15pm).

Kate received some good news when she heard she had passed half of her medical finals at Queen’s University with more exams to come next year.

The same applies to Pegasus as they will be setting their stall out to win the Irish Hockey League in April and Thursday’s game is, in effect, part of the preparation.

Kate was forced to sit out some recent games due to her academic commitments and handed over the captain’s armband to Pamela Glass.

But she will be wearing it proudly on Thursday and she will be hoping Pegasus can pass what will be a stiff test against the Premier League leaders.

Ards have no changes to make to last season’s squad while Pegasus have introduced a few younger players into their squad.

Newcomers Robyn Chambers, Rhianna Campbell and Hannah Grieve have plugged the gap left by the departure of established former internationals Arlene Boyles, through retirement and Claire McMahon, who has still to make her mind up about her future.

But Kate says that the transition has been relatively seamless and with good reason as the three newcomers are among the most talented youngsters in the country.

“We have a lot of experience from goalkeeper, through the back and into the midfield and forward line and the new girls have learned from the older ones.” she said.

“It’s a great honour to be captain of the side and to have taken over the role from Arlene and it’s also my responsibility to look after the the younger players.

“As far as the captaincy goes all the girls have been very supportive and they have made it easier for me.”

However Kate is the first to admit that the void left by Boyles at penalty corners has been hard to replace.

It is an ever increasingly important facet of the game these days and Pegasus are fully aware that set pieces could be crucial on Boxing Day.

“Yes we have missed Arlene at corners but we have been working hard practising them at training and Vanessa (Surgeoner) is now our number one striker.” she added.

Kate is expecting a very close encounter against Ards who will be bidding to reverse the result of the game between the teams in the group stages which Pegasus won 2-0.

“It’s always a bit of a battle against them and it can end up being a bit physical but games like that are enjoyable at the same time.” she continued.

“I have been to Boxing Day finals before and it’s fantastic to be an actual part of it rather than being a mere spectator.

“If you want to win something then there are bound to be nerves but the important thing is to channel them into a positive direction and that’s what we will be hoping to do.”

Ards are fresh from retaining their all Ireland indoor title at the weekend and rounded off their preparations with a light run out on Monday night.

It is 50 years since they last won the Shield and they realise that Pegasus may well start slight favourites on the day such is their vast experience of the big occasion in years gone by.

They are regulars in the showpiece and earlier this year lost to Ballymoney in the final after beating armagh in the decider the previous season.

“I know they have lost a few players this season but they are still a great side and they are hot on our heels in the league, just one point behind us.” said Ards captain Naomi Elliott.

“But it will be nice to play them at a neutral venue with a great atmosphere and I expect it to be a very close game.

“We have played each other three times this season and it’s all square at the moment with one win, one defeat and one draw so I think that just proves how tight it will be.

“It’s a huge day out for the club and although we have had success in indoor hockey, 50 years is a long time as far as winning the Shield is concerned.

“We have a great bunch of girls in the squad and this is a massive opportunity to win a major trophy after a few near misses in the recent past.”

“I am sure we will be nervous before the game but we have had some experience of big games like that in the recent past at all Ireland level and the players are a year older and wiser.”




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