Women’s EYHL2 promotion chase hits the turf for this season

The chase for promotion to the women’s EY Hockey League top tier begins in earnest on Saturday with eight of the ten teams involved meeting on the opening day of EYHL Division 2.

The competition format features two groups of five teams with the winner of each group advancing direct to the playoff semi-finals while the second and third place side in each group will go to the quarter-finals.

Saturday begins with some potential crackers on the agenda with Pool A featuring Ards against Corinthian and Trinity up against UCC with Galway on the bye weekend. The other group begins with Monkstown hosting Cork C of I and Queen’s up against NUIG while Lurgan complete the line-up.

Women’s EY Hockey League Division 2 – team-by-team info
Ards are going well in the Ulster Premier League, currently unbeaten with eight wins and two draws to their name, to sit top of the table. As well as having an impressive goal tally, defensively the squad is on form having conceded only three goals with Naomi McKnight the last line.

Up front, they have Olympian Zara Malseed to lead the line, indoor internationals Caroline Adams Amy Benson and Rebecca Kirk bringing lots of knowledge to the table while the return of youth international Alana Doyle has been another boon. The coaching ticket is similarly strong with Gareth Grundie – an Irish assistant coach – into his ninth year over the team, supported by Adams and Tamara McLeod.

Cork C of I
Phil Oakley’s outfit are currently sitting second in Munster Division One with just one defeat on their record. They start with a tough away date against Monkstown while lying in wait for them later on is a rematch with Queen’s who they fell 2-1 to in the Irish Senior Cup in early October.

The side can draw on quite a bit of EYHL experience with Becky Maye, Nicola Kerr, Alex O’Grady and key defender Emma Barber all having played for Cork Harlequins in the top tier. Ex-international Hollie Moffett and Ireland A player Mel Ryan are other key players while the squad has expanded this year with Henrietta Pienaar, Candace Davey, Julie Coyne and Jessica Kingston widening the panel, offsetting the departures of Hannah Kate Finn and Gill O’Leary.

UCC’s Caoimhe Perdue and Queen’s Jessica McMaster. Pic: Billy Pollock

Corinthian were frustrated back in 2020 as the one side to already have a playoff place confirmed in EYHL2 before the season was called to a halt. They are now coached by Ross Willis for his first proper season having arrived from South Africa in November 2020.

Holly Micklem (Old Alex) and Milly Lynch (the Netherlands) have moved on since then but, otherwise, they have a reasonably settled side and have won all five Leinster league games to date. Jessica and Lauren McGrane are scoring plenty, Jodie Douglas, captain Amber Kinlan and Lynn Pomeroy are strong performers and Georgie Fottrell is one to watch.

Galway’s star turn is 2016 Rio Olympian Alyssa Manley who lined out for the US the Games and the player-coach has already netted three times this season for the Dangan club in their two league wins to date in Connacht. Former UCD and Syracuse University player Elaine Carey is another with top-line quality.

They were in a share of top spot in Connacht’s Division One with NUIG when the 2019/20 season was called to a halt and they have lost just once domestically since the start of that campaign, form they will be keen to the EYHL2 stage.

Lurgan have the bye weekend in EYHL2 on Saturday having had a competitive start to the Ulster Premier Division, picking up three wins and four draws from 10 outings so far, scoring 14 goals, conceding 13 to sit in sixth place.

Charlene Stewart is a strong defender and organiser for the side with Lauren Wright and Sarah McClure bringing the eye for goal. Jade Lamont – a member of the Junior Green Army for a couple of years – is back in Ireland between the posts following a successful spell in the UK, winning a British Universities title with Nottingham Trent.

Monkstown bring an impressive squad to the table this season and it has shown in their games to date with six wins out of six in the Leinster league, scoring 30 times.

Simon Lowry and Sarah Scott are in their third season as a coaching duo and have added a number of youngsters to their panel to learn from the experience of Sarah Greene, Chloe Watkins and new recruits from the 2020 season Sarah Twomey and Suzie Kelly. The squad and management are excited for the season ahead and hope to make a strong push for promotion.

NUIG have started their season in upbeat mood with an Irish Hockey Trophy away win over Bandon and two league wins in the Connacht league. The side is coached by Cathal Duggan who was at the helm for Crescent Comprehensive when they won the Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirls Championships a couple of years ago.

Freddie Timmins, meanwhile, is a long-time leader of the side; she captained Connacht’s first ever Under-16 interpro winning side in 2007. Ailbhe Folan is their chief goal-getter while Jenny Buttimer, Aoife McGovern, Ruth McNulty, Anna O’Donoghue and Anna O’Hara have EYHL2 experience under their belt from 2019/20.

Queen’s University
Queen’s domestic form has been a bit hit and miss with two wins from seven outings thus far in the Ulster Premier Division but, on the flip side, they are through to the last eight of the Irish Senior Cup, eliminating UCC in the second round.

Senior international Erin Getty will be a key figure as will forward flyer Jessica McMaster while an interesting prospect could be World Cup star Zoe Wilson who has registered from Randalstown as she works her way back from an ACL injury.

Simon Bell is in his 14th season as head coach and he can also draw upon new arrivals Sophie McDowell (from Beeston), Ellie Montgomery (Pegasus), Rebecca Spence (Lurgan) and Zoe Kilpatrick (also Lurgan) and they will hope to be physically up for the challenge following an eight-week S&C block with Mike McGurn.

Monkstown captain Sarah Greene. Picture: Deryck Vincent

Leinster contenders Trinity has seen a turnover of players since their last season in action with Sally Campbell, Ailish Long and Issy Delamer departing for EYHL clubs but they have started the new campaign well, unbeaten in six games with five wins in Leinster.

Irish development panelist Erica Markey, Amy Buttimer, Iseult Cambay and Kate Orr are strong performers while Valerie Hajek has joined from Davidson University in the US. They still have a bit of gelling to do, though, following a 3-0 loss to Corinthian in the Irish Senior Cup, a side they will face later in the group stages.

The club’s stated primary target is to make the playoffs for EYHL1 and they will also be keen to retain the Munster Senior League title, something they are looking good for with a 100% record so far.

At the back Emma Cripps will be pivotal and she will be ably assisted in guiding the team by senior players like Roisin O’Dea and Hilary Balding. Irish panelist Caoimhe brings huge energy across the pitch and plenty of goalscoring prowess.

Development panelists Nikki Barry and Sarah Murphy will also be hoping this season sees them break into the wider Irish panel and in the process help UCC gain promotion. Rising stars Elva Kerr, Hilary Balding and Rebecca Kingston have pushed on massively in the last year and will be hoping continue that progress. The Irish Senior Cup saw them eliminate Monkstown but fall to Queen’s, both in shoot-outs.

Women’s EYHL Division 2 (Saturday fixtures)
Pool A:
Ards v Corinthian, Londonderry Park, 2.30pm; Trinity v UCC, Trinity Sports Grounds, 2pm
Pool B: Monkstown v Cork C of I, Rathdown, 2pm; Queens University v NUIG, Malone Playing Fields, 1pm