Clamber for Champions Trophy places begins in earnest
Hermes on brink of qualification but other spots are up for grabs
Just six points currently separate the teams in second to seventh places in the Women’s Hockey League. Photograph: Ryan/Byrne/Inpho.
There hasn’t been much doubt since early enough in the campaign that Hermes would qualify from the Hockey League for the end-of-season Champions Trophy, but if results go their way on Saturday they could mathematically seal their spot with four games to spare.
Below them, though, the contest to join them in the Champions Trophy is a lively one, just six points separating the teams in second to seventh – UCD (25), Railway Union (24), Pegasus (23), Cork Harlequins (21), Ulster Elks (20) and Pembroke Wanderers (19). Under them, either Ards (14) or UCC (9) are likely to face a relegation play-off, with bottom club Greenfields, yet to pick up a point, looking doomed to return to the Connacht League next season.
The top three automatically qualify for the Champions Trophy, but if any of those teams wins the Irish Senior Cup the fourth-placed team would also go through. Hermes, Ards, Ulster Elks and UCD make up the ISC semi-final line-up, so there’s a decent enough chance that that fourth spot might yet suffice.
The key games, then, on Saturday are Pegasus v Cork Harlequins and Ulster Elks v UCD, the second pair both collecting six points from their double-headers last weekend to boost their hopes. Before beating UCC and Greenfields, Elks had lost five Hockey League games in a row, so they were in serious need of those points to revive their challenge.
Hermes will expect to return to winning ways when they take on Greenfields, after their winning streak ended in a draw against Pegasus last weekend, while Pembroke will attempt to erase the memory of their 5-1 defeat at Cork Harlequins when they meet UCC.
HOCKEY LEAGUE – Saturday: Pegasus v Cork Harlequins, Queens, 1.0; Greenfields v Hermes, Dangan, 2.20; Pembroke Wanderers v UCC, Serpentine Avenue, 2.30; Ulster Elks v UCD, UUJ, 2.30.