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Weekend Preview

With the continuing cold snap threatening to play havoc with this weekend's outdoor hockey programme, the Ulster Indoor championship is certain to beat the weather for obvious reasons.

The competition takes place on Sunday at the Queen's PEC (9am-6pm) with five women's teams and two men's in action with the top finisher from each category progressing to the all-Ireland finals in Dublin a week later.

The prize for the two teams that win the respective national titles will be a place in Europe next year with Ards representing local interest for the fifth year in a row this season. The reigning champions are off to Prague next month as they bid to keep next year's Irish representatives, which they hope will be themselves, in the second tier next year.

Although having had to play second fiddle to Randalstown when indoor hockey was at its zenith in the late 1980s and early 90s, Ards have taken over the mantle in the more recent past. Next month's tournament will be their sixth Europeans in a row and they will be hot favourites to retain their Ulster crown on Sunday.

However, of the other four competing teams, hosts Queen's are likely to pose the stiffest test to Ards' ambitions and the meeting between the sides in the final game could be pivotal. Ulster Elks return after a year's absence and will be joined by first-timers Mossley along with Randalstown in the round robin event.

"We are looking forward to the indoor tournament immensely and I believe there a lot of transferable skills that can be useful in the outdoor game." said Mossley captain Louise Creighton.

"It's been great to see Ulster Hockey organising Under 15 and Under 18 indoor events and let's hope that version of the sport continues to enjoy a revival." 

If Ards can hang on to their local title, then next weekend could present a difficult test as either UCD or Railway, who meet in the Leinster final, have been playing more regularly in their own league as opposed to the Ulster one-day tournament.

The Ulster men's event will involve just two teams as Antrim will face off against Queen's over two games with the aggregate winner going forward to the nationals. 

Weather permitting outdoors, there are several important fixtures at national and domestic level on Saturday with the men's EYHL and women's Irish Senior Cup top of the agenda. In the IHL, Banbridge travel to Annadale for an important local derby while Cookstown and Lisnagarvey also face important fixtures.

Cookstown host Cork C of I in their bid to stave off the threat of the drop while Garvey will be aiming to defeat Pembroke to keep in touch at the top.

In the Ulster Premier, leaders Instonians travel to Deramore to play Harlequins while challengers Bangor and Kilkeel are away to Newry and NICS respectively.

On the women's front, Emma Quinn will be hoping to put one over her former team mates when Ulster Elks take on Lurgan in an Irish Senior Cup second round tie at Jordanstown on Saturday after the original game was called off on Wednesday night. 

The Elks captain won an Ulster Premier League medal with Lurgan three seasons ago but she is now continuing her studies at Ulster University. Since she joined the Elks, they have unfortunately suffered a fall from grace, having been relegated from the Irish Hockey League last season. Before that they won consecutive Irish Cups and a gold medal in Europe but a loss of key players, including Irish internationals Megan Frazer and Shirley McCay along with Canadian star Anna Kozniuk, hasn't helped.

Frazer is now coaching the Elks while she recovers from a long-term injury victim while McCay joined Pegasus at the start of the season and Kozniuk has gone home to North America. So Quinn knows that the Lurgan game will be a tough assignment with holders UCD awaiting the winners.

She said: "After a turnover of 30 players from our top two teams in the past two years, it has been a period of rebuilding and consolidating for us."

"We are playing good hockey regularly but need to improve and be more clinical in the circle. The game against Lurgan will be a good test and will let us see how we are progressing in our restructuring." 

"Our coaches Megan and Joel Cathcart are bringing new ideas and concepts and we are growing and adapting all the time. We want to develop as a team and help each player improve their own ability."

Also on Saturday, Pegasus should become the first Ulster team to reach the semi-finals as they will be expected to see off Leinster side Old Alex in Dublin. Belfast Harlequins face a more difficult test against IHL rivals Pembroke Wanderers at Deramore as they aim to repeat last year's 2-0 league win over the same opponents.

The big Ulster Premier League game sees Dungannon, who trail leaders Ballymoney only on goal-difference, travel to Belfast to face Queen's who are defending a 100% record, with games in hand.

Dungannon captain Karen Elliott said: "We are looking forward to testing ourselves against one of the most successful and consistent teams over the past two years."

There's one top-flight game on Friday night when a win for Ballymoney at Portadown would see the Co Antrim side go three points clear at the top.


MEN
EYHL
Annadale v Banbridge 2.30pm @ Strathearn
Cookstown v Cork C of I 2.00pm @ Steelweld Park
Lisnagarvey v Pembroke 3.00pm @ Comber Road

Premier
Belfast HQ v Instonians 2.30pm @ Deramore
Cliftonville v Mossley 2.30pm @ CIYMS
NICS v Kilkeel 1.00pm @ Stormont
Newry v Bangor 2.30pm @ Newry HC
Queen’s v Raphoe 2.30pm @ The Dub


WOMEN
ISC R2
Belfast HQ v Pembroke 2.30pm @ Deramore
Ulster Elks v Lurgan 1pm @ Jordanstown

ISC QF
Old Alex v Pegasus 1.30pm @ Alexandra College

Premier
Portadown v Ballymoney Friday 7.30pm @ Edenvilla
Banbridge v Mossley 1.00pm @ Havelock Park
Queen’s v Dungannon 1.00pm @ The Dub

Senior 1
Lisnagarvey v Ballyclare 2.30pm @ Comber Road
Priorians v CI 2.30pm @ St Columbs Park
Victorians v Armagh 4.00pm @ The Dub

SUNDAY (MEN AND WOMEN)
Ulster Indoor Championship 9am-6pm @ Queen's PEC



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