Erin's Elks adventure put on hold after South Africa call
The Ulster Elks have player availability problems ahead of what could be a season-defining few days in both national competitions, starting with tonight's EY Irish Hockey League clash with Ards at Jordanstown.
Ireland captain Megan Frazer is unlikely to be fit for the game after sustaining damaged ribs while on international duty in Spain last week and she faces a race against the clock to make it for Saturday's Irish Senior Cup quarter-final with Pegasus.
In addition, South African international Erin Hunter will miss both games and, in fact, may not play again for the Elks for the remainder of the season.
Hunter, who made her club debut before Christmas in an IHL game with Pegasus, returned home for the festive break and then received a call-up to the international side.
South Africa are hosting a training camp next month which will involve several internationals and won't conclude until March when the Elks' season could effectively be over.
A poor run of form has left them in danger of missing out on the IHL play-offs, adding importance to tonight's game with Ards, and if they lose to Pegasus on Saturday that will end their Irish Cup defence.
Elks captain Gemma Frazer said: "We weren't sure how Erin would be affected by her South Africa commitments when she first arrived and nor was she.
"With her country not taking up the invitation to play in the Rio Olympics, there was always a chance that the training camp wouldn't go ahead.
"But now that it is taking place, there would have been no point going to the expense of bringing her back over here for a couple of matches and then she would have had to go back home again for the camp.
"So we will wait and see if we make the IHL play-offs and then reconsider the situation."
There is certainly plenty at stake for both clubs in tonight's game as Ards want a positive result to haul themselves out of the relegation zone and the Elks want to win their game in hand to climb up the table.
Pegasus, meanwhile, are in a rich vein of form with six wins from their last seven games as they prepare to face the Elks.
Ballymoney are the only non-IHL Ulster side left in the competition and they drew the short straw as they are away to star-studded Hermes, who have a 10 wins out of 10 record in the national league.
UCD, including former Ballymoney and current Ireland player Katie Mullan, face Loreto in the other tie guaranteeing at least one team from Leinster and one from Ulster will be in the last-four.