Ards and Pegasus are given major boost in their hunt for cup delight
Ards and Pegasus have been handed a huge incentive ahead of Saturday's Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals in Dublin against Railway Union and Pembroke Wanderers respectively.
None of the current Ireland internationals will be permitted to play in either the semi-finals or the final due to training commitments as Graham Shaw's team prepare for the upcoming Olympic qualifying cycle.
So, if either or both Ulster teams come through Saturday's games, they are likely to be up against opponents who will be forced to field weakened sides.
Holders UCD and Loreto, who meet in an all-Dublin quarter-final, have several Ireland players in their ranks, as do Cork Harlequins, who will start as favourites to overcome Muckross in the other tie.
Ards currently have no senior internationals, while Pegasus midfielder Ruth Maguire was included in the squad which recently travelled to Chile for a warm weather training camp.
However, Ireland's most capped player, Shirley McCay, is still undecided about her international future and so could bolster the Pegasus Irish Cup squad if she decides to quit or delays her decision further.
The semi-finals are scheduled for the end of March with the decider due to be staged on the second weekend of May.
While Ards in particular stand to benefit if they can progress, the decision not to avoid a clash of dates with Ireland training will be seen as a further devaluation of the competition.
The Cup winners previously earned direct qualification into Europe and until this season were allowed 'back door' entry into the IHL play-offs.
Ards aren't complaining, however, although they are fully aware that they must first overcome the Railway Union test on Saturday in Dublin.
Team captain Naomi McKnight said: "With the high performance players not available from the semi-finals on, if we can pass this hurdle we strongly believe we can have a successful run and do well in this competition.
"Beating Belfast Harlequins in the previous round showcased the progress we have made."
Pegasus, meanwhile, will start as slight favourites against a Pembroke side that includes Ireland World Cup silver medallists Emily Beatty and Gillian Pinder.
However, captain Michelle Harvey says her team won't be taking anything for granted, despite beating them in a league match earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, Omagh, Portadown and Raphoe will carry Ulster hopes in the Irish Hockey Trophy quarter-finals while in the Ulster Premier, the top two, Lurgan and Ballymoney, clash at the Co Armagh venue.
Saturday: Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals: Pembroke v Pegasus (2.30pm); Railway Union v Ards (2.30pm); UCD v Loreto (2.50pm); Muckross v Cork Harlequins.
Irish Hockey Trophy quarter-finals: Omagh v Greenfields; Portadown v Our Lady's; Raphoe v NUIG (1pm); Three Rock v Cork C of I.
Ulster Premier: Lurgan v Ballymoney (2.30pm); Mossley v Banbridge (4pm); Queen's v Dungannon (1pm); Rainey v Lisnagarvey (4pm); Ulster Elks v Randalstown (2.30pm). Senior 1: Armagh v Coleraine (2.30pm); Club KV v CI (4pm).
Sunday: Irish Indoor Championships (Antrim Forum): Semi-finals: Ashton v Railway Union (9.30am); Ards v Galway (10.30am); 3rd place play-off: 1.30pm; final: 3.30pm.