Shirley sits out Elks game ahead of Ireland duty
The Ulster Elks have been dealt a blow ahead of Saturday's important EY Irish Hockey League clash with Pegasus at Upper Malone with confirmation that Shirley McCay is unavailable.
Ireland's most capped player is taking a well deserved break from competitive hockey before she embarks on a busy international schedule in the New Year.
McCay will be a key figure in the Irish squad which heads to Kuala Lumpur in January for the World League 2 series which is the start of the qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup.
Her absence will be keenly felt by her club due to her vast experience and the fact she is also the Elks' player-coach.
McCay's team have struggled this season, having lost more than half of the squad that lifted two Irish Senior Cups, but Pegasus certainly won't take them lightly.
It's a crucial game for both teams as Pegasus want to get back to winning ways as they are six points off the play-off places while the Elks are third bottom.
"I can totally understand why Shirley is taking time out because of the huge commitment that goes into playing international hockey these days but we certainly won't be underestimating them," said Pegasus and former Ireland captain Alex Speers.
"We simply weren't ruthless enough in the circle against Ards last week, despite having so much possession, and we need to improve our conversion rate," she added.
Ards remain the highest-placed Ulster team, just two points outside of the top four, but they have a tough game on Sunday against high-flying UCD.
The North Down side's scoring power has been limited by the enforced absence of Irish international Chloe Brown, who was averaging a goal a game before fracturing her ankle.
Belfast Harlequins currently occupy the relegation play-off spot with just three points and they face the daunting task of taking on Monkstown in Dublin.
In the Ulster Premier League, leaders Ballymoney should consolidate with a win over Portadown at the Joey Dunlop Centre while Lurgan, who trail only on goal difference, should stay in touch as they host top-flight newcomers Banbridge.
The other promoted side, Raphoe, will be hoping to build on the excellent draw they secured with Queen's at the weekend when they entertain Dungannon.
Lisnagarvey take on Randalstown while Queen's are at home to North Down in the other games, which should serve up some fireworks.