Gemma Frazer ready for a mighty challenge at Quins
Belfast Harlequins' new marquee signing Gemma Frazer knows all about the big occasion, having played for Ireland at a European Championship and helped the Ulster Elks to consecutive Irish Senior Cup triumphs and a gold medal success on the continental stage.
So the 23-year-old midfielder is fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead as Harlequins prepare to make their debut in the EY Irish Hockey League after beating UCC in a play-off last season to qualify.
The south Belfast side couldn't have asked for a tougher start on Saturday as they host defending champions Monkstown who, under their previous guise as Hermes, swept to a runaway success in last season's competition.
Then, 24 hours later, Quins travel to Dublin to play Railway Union, who were third last season, as the 18-match series kicks off with a double-header for all the participating teams.
"It's probably good to get the Hermes match out of the way early because nobody will give us a chance and therefore there is no pressure on us," said Frazer.
"It's also better, I think, to play them in the first match of the season because they won't know much about us, as we haven't played them in the recent past.
"Railway are a very strong team as well, but you expect nothing less when you're in such a strong league."
Frazer's arrival compensates for the loss of Irish U18 star Katie Larmour, who is now playing in the USA, while Harlequins have also added former Garvey captain Laura Johnston to their squad.
Ards will be without former team captain Naomi Grundie, who is expecting a baby, as they prepare to face UCD in Dublin on Saturday before entertaining Monkstown the following day.
They have also lost Amy Benson as she continues her studies in Liverpool, but have gained forward Lucy McKee, who has graduated from Bath University.
Last year's runners-up Pegasus travel to Ulster Elks before hosting Pembroke at the Dub.
The Elks have signed South African Danielle Wilson but lost Irish captain Megan Frazer to German side Mannheimer.
The Elks' other departures include Robyn Chambers and Dawn Axon, who will be playing against their former club on Saturday, while Pegasus have also acquired the services of Lucy McKee's sister, Katie, from Armagh.
The Denman Ulster Shield continues this week, with holders Randalstown, Queen's, Lurgan and Ballymoney favourites to progress to the last four.