At a time when most clubs are still shaking off Christmas cobwebs and planning for a cup run, the Limerick ladies have the Munster Senior League title sewn up.
Co-captain Christine O’Shea had the honour of hitting the insurance goal against a resolute Cork Harlequins at Rosbrien on Saturday — after Nikki Sterritt had broken the deadlock. That secured a 2-0 win — their ninth from as many outings this term, with 50 goals scored and just three conceded.
Under the guidance of Ger O’Carroll and David Passmore, no-one can deny they are worthy champions. With emigration and retirements affecting other clubs — Cork Church of Ireland, for example, have no player in the 20s in their usual match-day squad — Insta have largely kept their side together.
Eimear Cregan and Elaine Bromell provide the know-how with Kym Daly supplying the controlled energy to go with the youthful exuberance of Naomi Carroll and Eimear Ryan.
Furthermore, Claire Sullivan and Aoife Kenny are among those who have stepped up a level in the absence of America-based Rebecca Barry and fractured foot victim Róisín Upton.
While Insta took the plaudits in Munster, Bandon earned their spurs on the national stage. Ciara McCarthy has been in sparkling form and she added to her reputation with four goals in Bandon’s 5-1 Irish Hockey Trophy dismissal of YMCA.
That tally matched the number they’ve hit in seven league outings, with Louise O’Flynn also on target on a memorable day in west Cork.
John Dennis’ troops now have a quarter-final clash to look forward to, but Ashton won’t be alongside them in the draw. Their miserable record against Galway teams — they lost last year’s Examiner Cup final to Galway and were hammered by NUIG in this season’s competition — continued as they bowed out on penalty strokes after a 1-1 stalemate with Greenfields.
Bandon’s men rallied in the second half to avoid a shock defeat away to Catholic Institute, prevailing 5-3.
Eric Callender’s pair of strikes sandwiched a David Smith reply to leave Insta — without a win this term — 2-1 up at the break, but Bandon found their rhythm in a dominant third quarter, netting through Smith, Andrew Scannell and Scott Sullivan before Ali Smith won and converted a penalty stroke. Dara Crowe hit a last-gasp consolation for the hosts.
Cork Harlequins chalked up their ninth win from nine with a routing 7-1 dismissal of C of I B, Dan Hobbs claiming a hat-trick. Quins’ seconds meet C of I’s firsts tonight — the first of two games in hand for the latter as they look to reel in a nine-point deficit.