While each club is no doubt thrilled to see their stars continue their Olympic dream, an element of frustration is growing for club players with another lengthy enforced break from competition looming.
With each team from the EY Hockey League providing at least one player to Sean Dancer’s latest Irish panel, it means there will be a 35-day gap between rounds 15 and 16.
The Irish squad are due to head out to Durban on March 16 with a return date of April 5, playing up to eight matches against China, Japan, and the South African hosts.
Domestically, it means more turbulence to what has already been one of the stranger seasons as Hockey Ireland deals with the new realm of Olympic qualification giving the competitions’ committee an arduous task to keep everyone happy.
Some clubs were already in preseason last summer when news came through that the EY Hockey League would go on hold until after November’s Olympic qualifiers.
Seven rounds of matches in the marquee quickly followed in a six-week period until deep in December before a 49-day winter break kicked in.
Leinster clubs made use of that time to run off their indoor league and a few rounds of the Jacqui Potter Cup but Ulster and Munster were left kicking their heels for much of that time.
Catholic Institute’s Dave Passmore voiced his frustration at the time, particularly at the vote taken by clubs at a Munster AGM a few years ago to withdraw EYHL standard teams from local cups.
It means, between the start of February and March 15, a block of eight rounds of fixtures will be run off before the last two rounds are played off in late April. The compact schedule is also troublesome for the elite youth players. Both Catholic Institute and Cork Harlequins’ first teams have a healthy contingent of schoolgirls from Crescent Comprehensive and Mount Mercy, respectively, who are also preparing for a Munster Senior Cup final, pencilled in for March 4.
Pegasus travelled with only 12 players to Limerick last weekend as they rested youth internationals Niamh McIvor and Charlotte Beggs in the wake of Irish U18 games against England.
With an Irish Junior Cup semi-final on the same weekend, coach Greg Thompson was in a bind whether to call up second team players.
He will hope to have that duo back in the fold for their trip to Pembroke on Saturday along with Shirley McCay who missed the game in Limerick with a broken toe.
Insta and Harlequins bring their hot streaks for away games against the top two. The former go to third place Loreto for their third trip to Dublin in four weeks while Quins are up against new leaders Old Alex who feature Dripsey’s comeback kid Audrey O’Flynn.
In Munster Division One, a UCC win over Cork C of I will leave them within a point of the title. On the men’s side, it’s Munster Senior Cup semi-final day with Bandon hosting C of I and Cork Harlequins making a return trip to UCC — their midweek league game was snowed off after 10 minutes.