ULSTER will begin their bid to continue their domination of the girls’ underage interprovincials at Alexandra College tomorrow, as the U16 and U18 showpieces get underway.
The northern province have completed doubles at these grades in the past two seasons, and with a half-dozen Youth Olympians — including Irish captain Leah Ewert — anchoring their challenge at U18, they will be favourites at this grade again.
Munster haven’t won at that level since 1999, but David Egner will be quietly confident his squad, one of the strongest on paper in recent seasons, can cause an upset.
Cork C of I’s Amy Kate Trevor and Catholic Institute’s Rebecca Barry both tasted Home Nations glory in an Irish U18 shirt this summer, and were joined at the Youth Olympics in Singapore by Ireland U16 skipper Roisin Upton and Antonia McGrath.
Elsewhere, Leinster and Connacht both have a sprinkling of internationals to look to aswell — Lisa McCarthy and Emily Beatty are among those in blue while Ireland U17 soccer captain Dora Gorman and Freddie Timmins are still around to anchor the challenge from the westerners.
South East, as usual, will be game opponents but are hampered by the lack of club know-how in their ranks — just five of their 18 players have experience outside schoolgirls hockey.
As usual, the U16 tournament contains fewer well-known names, with the majority of participants making their interpro debuts.
Ulster skipper Zara Thom (Belfast Harlequins) and her Munster counterpart Acacia Taylor (Cork Harlequins) are two who have already made an impact at senior club level however, while Leinster’s Molly Lamb will be familiar to GAA followers in the capital, having won an U16 All-Ireland with Dublin during the summer.
The interpros have limited top-level club hockey this weekend, leaving Munster’s two university sides — who naturally have no underage representative players in their ranks — to battle it out at the Mardyke.
UCC will be heavy favourites to defeat UL, who have conceded an average of eight goals a game this term, on home turf (3pm). The Cork venue also hosts the central men’s fixture of the weekend, as UCC welcome Cork Harlequins (12pm).
The high-stakes games have come thick and fast for College, who will have to plan without broken hand victim Nathan Gokul as they attempt to quell an inevitable Quins backlash following a 5-2 Irish Hockey League defeat to Pembroke Wanderers.
Elsewhere, Cork C of I will be expected to make it five wins from five as they host Catholic Institute, looking to bounce back from their IHL loss to Lisnagarvey last time out.
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