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Clean sweep on hold as Lurgan target IHL place

By John Flack

Lurgan may be in sight of a clean sweep of domestic trophies but that target will be set aside at the weekend when they carry Ulster hopes of securing another place in the EY Irish Hockey League next season.

The Premier League champions will be aiming to join Pegasus and Ards at the top table, but to do so they must come out on top of a five-team round robin series in Dublin.

The play-offs involve the other provincial champions - Trinity, UCC and Greenfields - along with Old Alex, who came through the first stage of qualifying.

Alex defeated both Ulster runners-up Ballymoney and third-placed Queen's a fortnight ago and so cannot be treated lightly.

Of the five competing teams, only Connacht champions Greenfields, who failed to win a match last season and were relegated, can be regarded as relatively weak opponents.

The winners are guaranteed a spot in the IHL next season, but the runners-up will face Belfast Harlequins in a play-off to determine which will also hold down a place in the All-Ireland series.

Looking at the wider picture as far as hockey in Ulster is concerned, the province would obviously lose one IHL team if the two local sides were to meet in the promotion-relegation play-off, having had four representatives in the regulation season when Ulster Elks lost their place in the top flight.

Whatever happens, Lurgan can look back on a hugely successful season having retained their Premier League crown and lifted the Denman Ulster Shield in another first.

Lurgan captain Charlene Hull said: "We are looking forward to the weekend and it would be a great achievement for the club if we qualified for the IHL.

"But if that doesn't happen for us, we would be disappointed although that wouldn't take away from all we have done this season by winning the Shield, retaining the league title and we are also in the semi-final of the President's Cup.

"Going straight into the final weekend is a bonus for us as we have been able to train as normal and have not had to play an extra four games.

"We will go out and do our best as a team as we do in every game and see how we fare against the other four teams in what we expect to be a tough weekend."

It's imperative Lurgan get off to a winning start when they face Greenfields on Saturday before they meet Leinster champions Trinity later in the day.

On Sunday the Ulster girls start with a game against Munster's UCC before taking on Old Alex in what could be the match that determines whether they can achieve their goal.

WOMEN’S SENIOR FIXTURES

SATURDAY: EY Irish Hockey League Play-offs (Grange Road, Dublin): UCC v Trinity (10.30am); Lurgan v Greenfields (12pm); Old Alex v UCC (1.30pm); Trinity v Lurgan (3pm); Greenfields v Old Alex (4.30pm).

SUNDAY: EY Irish Hockey League Play-offs (Grange Road, Dublin): UCC v Lurgan (10.30am); Trinity v Greenfields (11.15am); Old Alex v Lurgan (1.45pm); UCC v Greenfields (3.15pm); Trinity v Old Alex (5pm).

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