Ulster will be looking to Jessica McMaster to provide the cutting edge in the circle this weekend when they defend their Under 18 inter-provincial title in Dublin starting with Friday’s clash with Munster.
The Ulster Elks striker, despite her tender years, has a vast reservoir of experience to draw upon and she has been a regular in the Jordanstown side for several seasons.
The Belfast High School student, an Irish Cup winner with the Elks last season, was also a member of the Ireland Under 18 team that lifted the gold medals at the European Championships in Italy in July.
“Jessica is one of the quieter members of the squad on the pitch but she does her talking with the goals she scores and has a knack of being in the right position at the right time.” said Ulster coach Steven Arbuthnot.
“The other players really look up to her and she is one of several key players in what is a little less experienced squad than the one we had last year as we’ve lost a couple of talismatic players.
“The build up has gone well though and we’ve been training hard and we drew with the Ulster Elks on Sunday when Jessica was playing against her club mates.”
Ulster will be attempting to build on their bronze medal success at the UK School Games when they defend their title at Grange Road.
Competing in the tournament in Manchester is a luxury none of the other provinces were able to replicate in their preparation for the annual showpiece.
However Arbuthnot realizes that a tough task lies ahead, particularly as Leinster, who were runners up last season, will have the benefit of home advantage.
Last year’s tournament was held at Comber Road and the Ulster coach is realistic enough to know that the host team are likely to prove the biggest threat to his squad’s ambitions of retaining the title.
“Playing at Garvey was a big help last year and we were able to train regularly on the pitch in the build up to the tournament.” he added.
“Obviously we don’t have that sort of luxury on this occasion whereas Leinster will have had plenty of practice on the tournament pitch.”
“But, on the other hand, taking part in the UK School Games gave us good competitive matches so hopefully that will stand us in good stead,” he added.
The Ulster squad will be captained by Lurgan’s Kathryn Edgar and the majority of the squad have Premier League experience with McMaster featuring in the IHL with the Newtownabbey side.
Another Ulster Elk, Ireland’s most-capped player Shirley McCay, will be in charge of the Ulster U16 squad, having steered the boys team to the gold medals at the UK School Games.
McCay’s charges will be aiming to go at least one better than last year when they finished in third place in the tournament at Lisnagarvey.
Due to the inter-pros, there are no Ulster Premier League games this weekend but there’s a full programme of matches in Senior One.
Friday: U16 inter-pros: Ulster v South East (6pm): U18 inter-pros: Ulster v Munster (2pm); Saturday: U16 inter-pros: Munster v Ulster (1pm); U18 inter-pros: Ulster v South East (12noon); Connacht v Ulster (5pm); Sunday: U16 inter-pros: Ulster v Connacht (9am); Leinster v Ulster (2pm); U18 inter-pros: Leinster v Ulster (12noon).