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Weekend Preview

Former Ireland captain Alex Speers has one eye on the future as she continues her fledgling coaching career by assisting Ulster Under 16 boss Joel Cathcart at the Youth inter-provincial tournament which is being hosted at Stormont over the weekend.

The Pegasus star has assisted her club coach, Ali McNeill, over the past two years with the Irish Under 16s in six nations tournaments on the continent. This weekend, the Ulster players from the same age-group will be aspiring to secure a place in the extended Ireland training panel.

First things first though, and their aim will be to retain the silverware at the inter-pros as they will be defending the title they won last year.
"The preparation for the weekend has gone very well, starting back in June with matches against Scotland and the girls have progressed week on week with an intensive training program in place since the start of August." said Speers. 

"The aim of every Ulster team is to win the inter-pros and to play at home is very special for these girls, especially as only one of them, Niamh McIvor, has experience from last year. It is a great group of talented girls, all of whom have brilliant attitudes to learning."

"Having been previously involved with the Irish U-16s, I have really enjoyed working and learning from Joel and Carolyn (Burns) and I am very excited for the weekend ahead."

Ulster U-18 coach Robbie McMinn is hoping his team can improve upon last year's third-place finish.
"We've had a good build up with a draw against Lurgan and a win over Queen's plus a bronze medal at the UK School Games." he said.

"However, you've got to make Leinster favourites as they have more players who have played for Ireland at this level. Yes, playing in the UK School Games was good and it brought the players together for some decent matches but it was the same last year and Ulster only managed to finish third."

The Stormont showpiece starts on Friday and continues until Sunday when Ireland face Scotland in the first of three internationals at the same venue (5pm). Local fans will have their first chance to see the girls in green as a World Cup side, their qualification for next year's event in London now having been secured.

Seven Ulster players are included in head coach Graham Shaw's panel, including Pegasus midfielder, Ruth Maguire, who will be making her debut at this level. Ireland will have to punch above their weight if they are to avoid an early exit from the World Cup in London next year after confirmation that a new format to reflect the expanded showpiece is to be introduced.

With the tournament being increased to 16 nations instead of the usual 12, the teams will be divided into four groups of four initially. However, for the first time in the competition's history, there will be no classification matches and only the four group winners are guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.

The four teams that finish second will face a play-off against the four third-placed sides from the other groups with the winners of those games progressing to the last eight. However, the nations that finish bottom of their respective pools will face an early exit in a departure from the norm. In Ireland's last World Cup appearance in 2002 , they played a total of seven matches, five in their pool and two subsequent classification games.

Ireland will go into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and in order to advance, they will need to avoid bottom-place in their pool or else they will be going home after only three matches in the first phase.

In the Ulster Premier League,  Dungannon host Portadown while in the men's series, the top game sees Instonians setting out to avenge their recent Kirk Cup defeat by Civil Service. 

With the Youth inter-pros taking pride of place, there are no women's EYHL games but the fourth round of men's fixtures is on Saturday, with Lisnagarvey and Banbridge hoping to maintain their unbeaten starts to the campaign following their ISC thriller at the weekend.

Bann face Monkstown in Dublin while Garvey are also on the road against reigning champions Three Rock Rovers. The other two local EYHL sides, Cookstown and Annadale clash head on at the Tyrone venue, with the hosts aiming for a first point of the campaign following three single goal defeats. The Dale have played two games so far, losing heavily to Three Rock but ten snatching an excellent draw away to Cork C of I.

Ulster Premier League:

Newry v Raphoe 8.00pm @ Newry HC

Antrim v Cliftonville 2.30pm @ Antrim Forum
Bangor v Mossley 2.30pm @ Bangor Aurora
Instonians v NICS 2.30pm @ Shaw’s Bridge
Kilkeel v Queen’s 2.30pm @ Kilkeel HS
Portadown v North Down 1.00pm @ Edenvilla
South Antrim v Belfast HQ 2.30pm @ Friends’ School

Cookstown v Annadale 2.30pm @ Cookstown HS
Monkstown v Banbridge 2.30pm @ Merrion Fleet Arena
Three Rock v Lisnagarvey 3.30pm @ Grange Road


Youth inter-provincials (Stormont):
U-18 Connacht v Ulster (4pm)
U-16: Ulster v South East (1pm); Munster v Ulster (5pm)

Ulster Premier League:

Dungannon v Portadown (2.30pm)

Senior One:
Armagh v Victorians (2.30pm)
Ballymena v Omagh (2.30pm)
CI v Priorians (1pm)

Youth inter-provincials (Stormont):
U-18: Ulster v Munster (12pm); Ulster v South East (4pm)
U-16: Ulster v Leinster (1pm)


Youth inter-provincials: (Stormont):
U-18: Ulster v Leinster (12pm)
U-16: Ulster v Connacht (11am)

Senior International:
Ireland v Scotland (Stormont, 5pm)

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