While there are plenty of miles still to travel, UCC’s away day in Limerick looks a potential decider for the students in women’s Munster Division One when they meet Catholic Institute at 1pm at Rosbrien on Saturday.
Victory would extend Denis Pritchard’s side’s perfect record to eight wins from eight, five points clear having played their nearest rivals twice.
It would also assure – at the very least – a ticket to the EY Hockey League promotion playoffs. Miss out there, they will still take up a place in the inaugural Irish Hockey League Division 2 for 2018/19, something which Pritchard says is a positive step to closing the level between national and provincial leagues.
“The longer the current system continues, the bigger the gap will be to the EYHL from the provincial teams,” he told the Irish Examiner. “There needs to be that stepping stone to make it achievable, not just as a target but also technically, physically and tactically.
“Even a couple of years in the second tier would help develop your squad, knowledge and experience and then step up more comfortably.”
Currently, the coach feels his side have the capacity to compete well with the best of the other regional leagues but are not quite ready – barring significant additions – to take on the EYHL teams.
As for the Insta game, UCC won the first meeting 5-1 at the Mardyke but Pritchard says a repeat scoreline is unlikely, saying that tie was “far from comfortable at any stage” despite the large margin.
For the Limerick side, Ger O’Carroll will be in the coaching role, taking the reins back over from Ollie O’Connor who stepped down this week.
She will not require a huge amount of time getting up to speed, though, having worked as head coach on her own and with Dave Passmore for several seasons. “It’s a cup final,” is O’Carroll’s assessment. “In Munster, there’s a top four and a bottom four with ourselves, C of I, UCC and Bandon. Those matches are crucial and we’ve all had draws against each other which has played into UCC’s hands. So if we don’t beat them, we will realistically be playing for second.”
They take on a UCC side that will feature Jenny Clein, Clodagh Moloney, and Aebfhinn Bourke who have all made the move down the N20.
It is a recurring theme for Insta that their finest talents move on, with international trio Roisin Upton, Naomi Carroll, and Rebecca Barry all with Cork Harlequins. Add in Aine Ryan at Trinity and their youth products could well be contenders on the national stage.
As such, taking second place in Munster and ensuring an IHL Division 2 place is crucial for O’Carroll’s troops to keep more of their talents in Limerick.
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