While the season is now set for an extra week, Saturday is very much D-day in women’s division one as Hermes host Railway Union in the long anticipated title decider at 2pm in St Andrew’s.
Hermes are the only side in any competition to beat Railway in any competition this term and their rivalry has been a true highlight of the year – facing off in all competitions with next month’s IHL semi-final setting to ramp up the ante even further.
After an initially sticky start to the campaign – losing to Loreto and drawing with Pembroke – the hosts currently have a 13-game winning streak in the league with just two goals conceded in Booterstown over the course of eight fixtures.
With Linda Caulfield, Jill Hodgins and Nikki Evans all moving on, they took a while to settle into the season. Simon Filgas started the season as coach only to step aside before Christmas before Dutchman Eric Fintelman stepped in to shore up the coaching situation after a couple of weeks with former boss Colin Stewart helping out.
His arrival saw has seen the side suffer just one setback since the first week in November – a Jacqui Potter loss to bogey side Pembroke – setting the league alight with a blistering pair of wins at Railway in February.
Aine Connery and Anna O’Flanagan have been key factors, direct dynamic forces while the back four marshalled by Aoife McCarthy, Fiona Connery and Emma Gray has been the stingiest around.
Sarah Greene, Niamh Atcheler, Deirdre Duke and Chloe Watkins continue to develop at serious pace and, with school’s hockey complete for the season, approach the weekend’s game at their freshest.
Jenny Burke was the jewel in the crown, though, that double-weekend against Railway and her absence on Saturday could be a pivotal element.
Railway have Irish international Emma Smyth available though Gene Muller – with the WCQ on the horizon – will hope not to endure the scares from a series of bumps and bruises on Wednesday night as the fiery midfielder required treatment on a couple of occasions.
Evans was to the fore in that tie against UCD, showing some of her best form with a series of mazy dribbles, and has a chance to get one over on her former club.
Kate Dillon’s aggressive style down the right flank, set in motion by the diminutive Sinead Walsh provides another major point of attack from two sides who have been the outstanding performers this season.
Elsewhere, Loreto were eliminated from the title race on Wednesday night and while they can still grab second should they win their pair of remaining fixtures and Hermes lose both theirs.
With the WCQ looming large, there’s has been a stop-start affair as the side most affected by international unavailability. The lack of consistency in selection matters made it tough as they limped by the likes of Trinity and Corinthian since the turn of the year.
Indeed, a lack of luck in the fixture schedule saw them under-strength at vital stages, missing four for a key tie with Hermes in February which proved the biggest dent in their progress.
They close out the campaign with a tie at Pembroke on Saturday and a home tie against Glenanne on April 18.
Pembroke, too, still have a pair of games to play and could rise as high as sixth to finish on a high after a transitional season which saw them languish around the bottom end of the table for the most part.
UCD complete their league season with a purely academic tie against Old Alex, both long since confirmed in fourth and fifth respectively. Both have more important matters still at hand, though, with the students off to Europe in late May while Alex await the IHL playoffs.
Women’s Division One: UCD vs Old Alex, 11am, Belfield; Pembroke vs Loreto, 11.30am, Serpentine Avenue; Hermes vs Railway Union, 2pm, St Andrew’s