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Ulster's multi-talented Denise excels at three sports

By John Flack

Travelling around 2,000 miles a season from Ulster hockey's most remote outpost in Donegal merely to fulfil away fixtures in the Premier League doesn't cost Raphoe goalkeeper Denise McElhinney a second thought, such is her dedication to three different sports.

The multi-talented 30-year-old not only plays hockey but ladies' Gaelic football and soccer, and her hectic schedule reaches its peak in September when it's a seven-day week routine.

Normally there is little conflict as she plays Gaelic and soccer in the summer months but her three chosen sports end up on a collision course in the autumn.

"It can be pretty hectic when the tail-end of the two football seasons coincides with the start of the hockey but I wouldn't swap my sporting lifestyle for anything," Denise explained.

"The rest of the year is easier as the Gaelic tends to be on a Sunday and the soccer midweek."

A former Irish U19 football international, Denise plays in goal for Donegal League side Bonagee United and also lines out between the sticks for Convoy GAC.

However, at this time of the year, hockey is the name of the game and her heroics last season saw Raphoe promoted to the top flight for the first time.

Denise saved three penalties in a promotion play-off shoot-out win over Rainey and she loves her role after being persuaded to fill a void six years ago.

"Raphoe captain Sabrina Barnett, who also plays Gaelic for Convoy, asked me to help out as the club was stuck and I agreed to give it a go," she added.

"I loved it from the start and it's easier than playing the other sports with all the protective clothing you are able to wear."

Denise played a starring role before Christmas when Raphoe picked up their first point from a 0-0 draw with Queen's as she saved a penalty and made a string of superb stops.

A similar result against Dungannon has left them in confident mood ahead of Saturday's rearranged Irish Hockey Trophy tie with Cork C of I.

Meanwhile, in the Premier League, Lurgan will be aiming to keep their 100 per cent record intact when they entertain Dungannon while Queen's hope to secure their first win in four games when they host Lisnagarvey.

Banbridge face North Down while Randalstown, who will be missing Zoe Wilson who is on Ireland duty in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the World League 2 series, host Ballymoney.

WOMEN’S SENIOR FIXTURES

SATURDAY: Ulster Premier League: Banbridge v North Down (Havelock Park, 2.30pm); Lurgan v Dungannon (Lurgan Junior HS, 2.30pm); Queen’s v Lisnagarvey (Upper Malone, 2.30pm); Randalstown v Ballymoney (Antrim Forum, 2.30pm).

Senior One: Armagh v Knock (Ardmore, 2.30pm); CI Ladies v Knock (CIYMS, 2.30pm); Cookstown v Ballyclare (Steelweld Park, 2.30pm); Rainey v Mossley (Meadowbank, 4pm).

Irish Hockey Trophy second round: Raphoe v Cork C of I (Royal & Prior, 2.30pm); Galway v Ballymena.

Belfast Telegraph

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