By Saturday evening, the women’s EY Hockey League will have a new champion with either Pembroke of Catholic Institute taking the laurels for the first time.
At different points in the season, Pembroke looked like they might have had it wrapped up at this stage but Insta gave them something to think about last Saturday with their 4-1 win at Rosbrien to send the title chase to a final day.
For Pembroke, they remain in the box seat with a two-point lead and a home date against ninth-placed Muckross. Last week, they had a half-dozen players unavailable with their backline completely rejigged in the absence of Leah McGuire, Isy Delamer, Amy-Kate Trevor and Hayley O’Donnell.
Last week was, incredibly, the first time Pembroke had conceded more than one goal in a game this term. With a more settled line-up, coach Gavin Groves will ease back into their rhythm once again to land the title for the first time.
For Insta, they are guaranteed their best ever finish in the EYHL simply by virtue of the fact this will be their first complete season in the top tier.
The influence of Olympians Róisín Upton and Naomi Carroll cannot be understated; they are both among the top three goalscorers in the league, offering threats from set pieces and play, respectively.
But focusing on that duo is just part of the story. The second goal in last Saturday’s 4-1 win over leaders Pembroke was a pitch-length, training ground move of smooth movement and team interplay.
Leah Clery’s tireless running up top, Laura Foley’s ability to ghost by players and the assurance of Christine O’Shea in defence are all pivotal.
If they win their lunchtime game at Belfast Harlequins (12.45pm, Deramore Park), Insta will have a – potentially temporary – one-point lead in the rankings.
Then, they will hope to be active Muckross supporters for an afternoon, wishing on the relegation-threatened side can deny Pembroke a victory (2.30pm, Serpentine Avenue).
They form exciting parts of a final day of the campaign with something on the line for nine of the ten teams due to the new playoff format. Muckross and Belfast Quins’ fate is also wrapped up in those ties with the Dubliners needing a win to have a chance to avoid the drop – by the time they hit the turf, they will know their equation and what is possible.
Pegasus are already assured of a playoff spot but they will be hoping to upgrade their guaranteed quarter-final spot to a semi; for this to happen, they need Insta to falter and then win over UCD.
The students, though, will know what they need in the last game of the season (starting at 2.50pm at Belfield) to get into the playoffs themselves.
Railway, seventh, can put fifth-placed Old Alex’s playoff hopes in jeopardy if they pick up a win at Milltown in a potential barnstormer. Loreto, meanwhile, will look to pin down a home quarter-final if they can lock down the points at home against Cork Harlequins.
Sunday, meanwhile, sees the women’s Irish Senior Cup semi-finals take place. Holders UCD are going for a fourth title in five editions of the competition but they need to be the first side this season to win at Rosbrien as they go to Catholic Institute – they did draw there on the opening day of the season, the one blemish to Insta’s home record.
Pembroke host Pegasus in a repeat of the 1975 final, the year the Dublin 4 side last won the title.
Saturday, March 26th
Women’s EYHL Division 1: Belfast Harlequins v Catholic Institute, Deramore Park, 12.30pm; Cork Harlequins v Loreto, Farmers’ Cross, 12.45pm; Old Alex v Railway Union, Milltown, 1.30pm; Pembroke Wanderers v Muckross, Serpentine Avenue, 2.30pm; UCD v Pegasus, Belfield, 2.50pm
Sunday, March 27th
Women’s Irish Senior Cup, semi-finals: Catholic Institute v UCD, Rosbrien, 1pm; Pembroke v Pegasus, Serpentine Avenue, 4pm