All-Ireland series is survival of the fittest, says Rainey captain Erin
Rainey Endowed captain Erin Mulholland firmly believes that the destiny of the all-Ireland schoolgirls' hockey championship will come down to who wants it most.
The Magherafelt outfit join the four other provincial champions in the Kate Russell Cup competition which is being staged over two days (Thursday and Friday) in Kilkenny.
Rainey, of course, lifted the Ulster title a fortnight ago when they defeated Banbridge Academy in the Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup final at Stormont.
Erin was the heroine of the hour, saving three penalties in a shoot-out which was needed to determine the outcome after a 1-1 draw.
While that was gruelling enough, the 18-year-old is fully aware that playing four matches in the space of 48 hours presents an even bigger test, but she believes her team are well prepared for the marathon.
"I think as we demonstrated in the Ulster final we are a very fit, fast team," said Erin.
"We have worked very hard all season on strength and conditioning but four games in two days will be a big task, although one I think our girls are ready for."
However, the opposition will be an unknown quantity, although some of the Rainey players have inside knowledge of some of the individual players they will be up against.
"We have played teams from the three other provinces on tour and in Glasgow, so we have some experience of the different styles of hockey and we know they are all going to be top sides having won their provincial cups," Erin added.
"We as a team are going to have to adapt because we usually have information on the opposition, but we do have Ulster and Irish players on our team that will be familiar with the other provincial and Irish players."
Rainey will be aiming to match Banbridge Academy's achievement last year when they lifted the all-Ireland title at the first attempt.
"Of course we would love to repeat the success that Banbridge had last year, but our coach Carolyn Burns makes sure we take one game at a time, and see where it takes us," Erin said.
"We are very aware of the fact we are representing Ulster and not just Rainey because it's what we have worked for all season and something we are looking forward to.
"It would be immense to win the all-Ireland title, and to be the best school team in the country would obviously be something truly special."
Meanwhile, there is a full programme of EY Irish Hockey League games this weekend and the three Ulster sides will be aiming to avoid the whitewash which afflicted them a fortnight ago.
Defeats for Ards and Belfast Harlequins against Trinity and Railway Union respectively have all but ended their chances of a place in the play-offs. However, Quins could still qualify if they were to win the Irish Senior Cup, although their immediate concern will be to get a positive result against Trinity on Saturday.
Ards are tasked with a tough test away to Loreto, who still have an outside chance of making the play-offs.
Pegasus still look the best Ulster bet for a top-four finish despite losses to Cork Harlequins and UCD in their last two matches.
Of the Ulster trio in action on Saturday, they have potentially the least difficult task as they take on basement side Monkstown in the late slot at Upper Malone.