Putting the new pieces of the puzzle together is the challenge for Cork Harlequins as they begin their second EY Hockey League campaign at promoted Loreto today.
The dawn of a fully-fledged national league was always going to encourage player migration and Quins, as Munster’s standard-bearers, have been busy on the recruitment front, the club being the clear destination of choice for aspiring elite athletes in the province.
Having attracted the likes of former Ireland international Miriam Crowley, ex-U21 international Olivia Roycroft, and Catholic Institute’s Katie Campbell to the club en-route to a sixth-place finish last term, there is even more change in the line-up at Farmer’s Cross this year with 10 new recruits.
Crowley has departed for Edinburgh, but there are no shortage of fine replacements. Sixty-six-capped Ireland forward Naomi Carroll makes the switch south from champions Hermes- Monkstown. She is joined by Rebecca Barry, who won her first Irish caps this summer and moves from Ulster Elks.
Last year’s captain of relegated UCC, Nicola Kerr, has also come on board and will be joined later this year by Roisin Upton - one of the best players in America, where she is a two-time national champion - when the Limerick woman finishes her commitments with the University of Connecticut, further increasing the ex- Institute contingent at Quins.
The biggest signing of all could prove to be Lina Geyer, who boasts Olympic and Champions Trophy pedigree along with over 100 caps for Germany. Add to the mix Ireland U18 forward Michelle Barry (Ashton), Ireland U16 captain Caoimhe Perdue (Cashel/New Inn), Fermoy taliswoman Niamh Sexton, Bandon’s Ingrid Burns - daughter of former international Ger - and Jane Gilsenan from Muckross, and the options for coach Stephen Dale are plentiful.
Quins already have Ireland duo Cliodhna Sargent and Yvonne O’Byrne manning the defence in front of recent Ireland U21 call-up Emma Buckley in goal, while former internationals Karen Bateman and Rachael Kohler are both in situ again to guide the new recruits in midfield.
It makes for a heady mix as Quins go chasing the consistency that eluded them last season, but Hermes-Monkstown are still likely to be title favourites.
It’s a similar story on the men’s side as Cork Church of Ireland have also bolstered their options via a slew of arrivals from UCC. Wesley Brownlow, Peter Coulter, Rob Johnston and Andrew Power have all pitched up at Garryduff as the students undergo a major transformation after the break-up of their Munster title-winning first team. Ken Twomey is also back after spells in Dublin and London while Irish Junior Cup- winning German defender Bernhard Fohrmann is the only man leaving, meaning new coach Neil Welch - who is back for a second spell at the helm after seven seasons with UCC - has a settled side with increased depth. C of I set the early pace last season but then fell away dramatically into a relegation battle, only to pull clear in the final weeks. Incoming captain John Jermyn - one of 11 Olympians in this season’s EYHL - will be looking for his side to avoid those troughs this time.
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