On the back of Ireland’s remarkable 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 gets under way.
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.
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.
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 world Cup 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, defeating Club KV 4-2, with goals from Danni Darragh, Aimee Buchanan and Amy McCollum, Jo Orr replying with 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,” he said.
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 men’s 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.