Four of Saturday’s women’s EY Irish Hockey League games have been moved back to Sunday to allow the Ireland players more time to recover from their busy schedule in Spain.
Graham Shaw’s girls finished their trip with a 4-1 loss to Spain on Thursday before heading home after playing five games in the space of six days.
However, the one IHL game to be played on Saturday is vitally important as it’s a basement battle between Ards and Muckross at Londonderry Park.
Muckross, who secured promotion out of the Leinster League last season, are currently one point adrift of Ards at the bottom of the table although the Ulster side have a marginally better goal difference.
While a draw wouldn’t be a disaster, Ards would dearly love a win to increase the gap to four points and pile more pressure on the Dublin side, who have a slightly less difficult run in.
Ards have shown incremental improvement after a poor start and have scored four goals in their last two outings after finding the target just twice in the previous six games.
The north Down side will be representing Ireland at the European Indoor Championship in France next weekend on the back of last year’s all Ireland triumph and a win over Muckross would be the perfect send-off.
The teams fought out a scoreless draw in the opening match of the season and another close encounter is anticipated on Saturday.
On Sunday, leaders Pegasus are away to UCD in a repeat of last year’s Irish Senior Cup final but the Dublin side have lost several key players since then.
Pegasus will be confident of securing at least a draw, having played well in their recent 4-2 cup win over Pembroke Wanderers in Dublin.
Two of their goals came from penalty corners on that occasion, both of them set up by Shirley McCay, much to the delight of Alex Speers, who bagged all four.
She said: “Our set-pieces let us down last season but we have been working hard on them in training and it’s nice when they came off in a match.”
“Shirley has brought a few corner moves back from Ireland and that’s one of the many advantages of having her in the team.
“Having won the Ulster Shield and got one trophy on the cabinet so far this season, we obviously want more silverware especially after under performing in the Irish Cup final last year.”
Belfast Harlequins expect to have Zoe Wilson back from injury for their clash with Pembroke in Dublin as both teams chase a top-four spot.
The 21-year-old World Cup silver medallist is well on the road to recovery after damaging her ankle during Ireland’s trip to Chile last month, ruling her out of the visit to Spain.
At domestic level, there are several important Ulster Premier fixtures on Saturday, none more so than the meeting of leaders Lurgan and Queen’s at the Dub.
The students, who were runners up last season, are just two points behind champions Lurgan but have the benefit of two games in hand.
At the other end of the table, the bottom two, Rainey and Ballymena go head-to-head in Magherafelt with the visitors just ahead of their opponents on goal difference going into the game.
Finally, Dromore carry Ulster hopes in the Irish Hockey Challenge semi-finals as they prepare to host NUIG II at Ferris Park.
On the men’s front, Banbridge and Cookstown have busy weekends ahead as both teams face double headers, one of which is against each other on Sunday.
Before that, Bann travel to Cork C of I and Cookstown make the shorter trip to Comber Road, hoping to do as well as, if not better than last year when they drew 2-2 with Lisnagarvey.
“They don’t come much harder than back-to-back away games against two of your provincial rivals,” said Cookstown captain Greg Allen.
“But we’ll go into it looking to overturn the odds and get points from the games.
“We’ve had some good performances in the Anderson Cup and all the guys who needed rest have had it now. It really is time for our men to knuckle down and show what they can do.
“Obviously as players we really can’t look beyond the Garvey game and in that regard we are pretty well prepared. We’ll need to win or get parity in the individual battles if we hope to get anything from the game.’
“Garvey were one of the few teams to get a game last weekend due to the snow and seem to have played very well to get a point against league leaders Glenanne, so they’ll come into it full of confidence and running. We’ll have to match that.
“Bann are flying in the league but have a tough enough game away to Cork on Saturday, so maybe there is an opportunity for us there. One thing is for sure, it will be all about recovery and fitness this weekend.”
Earlier this week, Bann were handed an incentive to make the top-four, with confirmation that Havelock Park is to host the Champions Trophy tournament.
In the Ulster Premier League Division A, the top two sides- Kilkeel and Instonians - both face away trips on Saturday.
Kilkeel travel to the Glade to take on a Mosley side that has been going well this season while Inst tackle Newry Olympic.