UCC’s new-look women’s outfit will be given the sternest of early tests as they reacquaint themselves with Munster hockey.
Paidi Hartnett is back in the dugout to replace Phil Oakley and has to plan for an extremely tough league start, visiting fellow title favourites Catholic Institute and Cork C of I in the first weekend.
Seven first-team players including goalkeeper Sarah Wrixon and captain Nicola Kerr departed in the wake of the side’s relegation from the EY Hockey League, but there is quality coming in too.
Former Munster underage team-mates Louise Egan, Aebfhinn Bourke, Aisling Horan, Mollie O’Mahony and Becky Danaher, who returns from a year in the USA with Longwood University, will don the skull and crossbones for the first time.
That Chris Blaney’s C of I are among the fancied sides shows both the depth of their recruitment but also the vibrancy of their youth section despite a tough year in the second tier last season.
Melanie Ryan, Hollie Moffett and Coyne twins Edel and Julie are back in harness after a number of years away from Garryduff, with Sarah Wrixon offering a commanding presence between the posts. Munster U16 reps Rebecca Kingston and Abi O’Mahony also step up to the first team for the first time.
The first game on Newtown School’s new pitch — built inside just a couple of months as past pupils raised €200,000 in double-quick time — sees newly-promoted Waterford meet Ashton. Former international Kristin Lyons pulls the strings for the Déise ladies while Ashton will miss long-term injury absentees Emma Harrington and Lisa Buttimer and Ireland U18 starlet Michelle Barry, who has moved to play EYHL with Harlequins. However, Graham Catchpole’s side have Steph Baker and Emily-Alice Daly back to add depth to their panel and will be hoping to lose the inconsistencies that dogged them last season.
The season begins in west Cork with a derby between Bandon — whose new pitch is nearing completion — and Clonakilty. Bandon have lost Ingrid Burns to Harlequins but have otherwise kept together many of the mainstays of last season’s Irish Trophy-winning squad while Clon will look to teenage starlet Ellen Lawlor to make a big impact in her first full top-flight season. On the men’s side, champions UCC have a tough opening against a C of I seconds side likely to contain numerous former College players.
There was a mass summer exodus at the Mardyke, including 12 first-teamers, which has seen the students reduced from four teams to two, leaving Bandon as favourites for the men’s crown this term.
In round three of the EYHL, Cork Harlequins ladies will look to build on a 100% start as they visit Pembroke while C of I’s men host UCD.
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