Having won their first six games to be the Munster league’s standard bearers, things came crashing down for Brian Downes’ young charges when they lost 3-1 to a Cliodhna Sargent-inspired Cork Harlequins last weekend.
Insta will start as slight favourites for the visit of College — for whom Clodagh Moloney plays against her old club for the first time — but they will have noted the students’ 1-1 draw with champions Quins as reason to be wary.
After a slow start, UCC have come on in leaps and bounds under Phil Oakley and are title contenders in their own right, having initially been widely expected to drop to mid-table. Against Quins they showcased strong defensive capabilities under intense pressure, with Moloney and Ailbhe Coyle in particular starring.
Institute have lost a lot of experience from their ranks in the past two years but the return of midfield schemer Kym Daly and the continuing upward performance graph of Irish international striker Naomi Carroll make them a dangerous proposition.
At the other end of the table, Cork C of I’s scoreless draw with Ashton in midweek guaranteed both clubs a place in Div 1A when the league splits after Christmas, leaving Bandon and Cashel/New Inn to fight it out for the last remaining slot.
Both sides finished level on nine points from eight games so they will meet in West Cork on Sunday, with the winner staying up and the loser dropping to the new Division 1 Challenge alongside already-relegated Fermoy and Limerick.
With UL dropping to the third tier of Munster hockey, there is an extra berth potentially available in that post-Christmas competition for the clubs in Division 1B to aim for. Waterford, Clonakilty and Clonmel are already through and Cork Wanderers can join them if they win at Belvedere tomorrow.
On the men’s side, the Peard Cup semi-finals dominate the agenda.
Cork C of I host Cork Harlequins in a repeat of last week’s dramatic 4-3 win for C of I. Quins made excellent use of very limited possession that day but short corner concessions were an issue with John Jermyn rattling in a first-half hat-trick for the Garryduff men, who will seek a performance pockmarked with less error on home turf this time.
The novel pairing of Limerick and Bandon in the other semi-final should see both sides going for broke to notch a rare cup final appearance. Bandon have to travel but will nonetheless be favourites by virtue of their crushing 11-3 win in the league earlier this season. Limerick will be keen to bounce back from a disappointing 4-1 reverse at the hands of Kilkenny in the Irish Trophy.