Last Saturday morning, Naomi Carroll left her home in Cratloe, Co. Clare and pointed the car in the direction of Cork, where her Harlequins team saw off Pembroke Wanderers 3-0 to keep their EY Hockey League title challenge alive.
After a quick shower and change, Carroll and her team-mates then headed for Belfast, where they overnighted before facing Pegasus in an Irish Senior Cup semi-final on Sunday. The northerners’ own game the day before had fallen victim to a frozen pitch, offering them the advantage of freshness in a tie that went the distance. But following a tense 1-1 draw, Carroll and Quins did the necessary in the penalty shootout to reach a first national cup final in 15 years.
Two draining games and around 900km of travel later, Carroll was back home in Clare late on Sunday night, the exhaustion at least offset by the satisfaction of success. But she and her team-mates will have to summon another massive effort this weekend as they head to Belfast again for two more big clashes, underlining the commitment required to compete at this level.
First up tomorrow are a Pegasus side motivated not only by that galling Cup loss but the need to get their own EYHL house in order. Then on Sunday, Harlequins face their Belfast namesakes, who are battling to avoid the drop and have some form of their own after a vital 3-2 win over Ulster Elks in a basement three-pointer last time out. The upshot is that six points for Stephen Dale’s third-placed charges could see them atop the standings Sunday night, depending on how Monkstown and UCD fare in their away days at Loreto and Ulster Elks respectively.
Double weekends are also on the cards for three of the country’s top men’s teams. EYHL title contenders Banbridge and Monkstown meet tomorrow before both are in Irish Senior Cup semi-final action just over 24 hours later, against surprise package Corinthian and UCD respectively. The Dublin students will also have a game in their legs — a potential relegation six-pointer against Instonians — from the day before.
The certainty that one or both of Bann and Monkstown will drop points — and with Three Rock Rovers and Lisnagarvey in the same boat as they meet at Grange Road — means opportunity knocks in a congested top five for Cork Church of Ireland. Neil Welch’s men recovered from an ISC disappointment at Bann with a counter-attacking success at UCD last weekend, and they welcome struggling Railway Union to Garryduff tomorrow.
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