All four ESB women’s IHL semi-finalists have reported clean bills of health as a fascinating weekend starts with a bang tomorrow morning when Railway Union face Hermes for the seventh time in all competitions this season.
Railway have just one absentee from last Sunday’s Irish Senior Cup final penalties defeat, Hannah de Burgh-Whyte is exam-tied. Speaking about that setback, though, Isobel Joyce believes her side have learned from last Sunday’s experience, their first ever appearance in a national outdoor final.
“It makes it easier because we made it to the biggest stage and played really well,” she said.
“Obviously we lost but we were very proud of the way we played. The nerves we might have had going into Saturday won’t be as strong after that.”
Hermes, meanwhile, are going for their fifth club championship title and a return to the final stage where they were so cruelly denied on penalties last time round.
They fell to Railway in the Leinster league decider 1-0 but Christine Quinlan believes her side need to sharpen their edge in front of goal from that performance to be real contenders this weekend.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily revenge but we have a few things we want to put right ourselves; things we need to put to bed. In the Leinster league decider, we didn’t play our best and there was no question of being cheated out of it or anything, they were the better team on the day.
“We need to be more ruthless when taking our chances in attack, be patient because they’re obviously a pretty experienced side who are going to throw everything at us and then take the opportunities when our time comes.”
On the other side of the draw, which tips off at 12.30pm, Cork Harlequins face Pegasus attempting to beat the Ulster side for the first time.
But Irish legend Rachael Kohler says the weight of history will be much less of a factor this time round.
“It’s probably very different from previous years. We’ve had this idea in the past that we’d never be able to beat Pegasus, when you’ve continuously lost to the same team.
“But an awful lot of our players don’t even know who Pegasus are so you can’t really look back too much historically on the fixture at all.
“Our squad this year is a real mix and it’s worked really well for us with the experience to steady the ship and the youth to bring a lot of excitement, particularly in the forwards so hopefully that should stand to us this weekend.”
As for Pegasus' Arlene Boyles, she says that despite eight Ulster league matches in three weeks in the build-up, her side is much fresher this time around. Last year, her side were unable to capitalise from 12 penalty corners against Hermes in the semi-final stage in the wake of a tough European campaign but this year, Boyles says they have managed the situation much better.
“I think there is a sense of making things right this year. A lot of us have been waiting to get back to this part of the season and into this competition.
“We’re very conscious of not making the same mistakes again. We came into the ESB IHL finals last year off the back of a European campaign, there were a lot of tired players. We’ve rotated our players a lot better this year, certainly in the last eight games.”