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Boxing Day battle: Pegasus captain Stephanie Thompson and Ards captain Naomi Elliott with the Ulster Shield

Boxing Day battle: Pegasus captain Stephanie Thompson and Ards captain Naomi Elliott with the Ulster Shield

Boxing Day battle: Pegasus captain Stephanie Thompson and Ards captain Naomi Elliott with the Ulster Shield

Pegasus are resigned to being without Vanessa Surgeoner next season but the bad news for Ards is that the Ireland striker will be in the starting line-up for Boxing Day's Denman Ulster Shield final when the teams meet at Lisnagarvey (1.15pm)

Surgeoner is lining up a move to England to undertake a post- graduate course and her departure will be a major blow for the Ulster champions, as Ards know from experience.

The striker hit four of the goals in a 5-3 win at Ards last season which clinched Pegasus the Premier League title, although it was Ards who drew first blood in the Shield final 12 months ago.

Their 3-1 success earned them their first outdoor hockey trophy for half a century and obviously they are keen to hang on to it on Friday.

On their own admission, Ards struggled in the early part of the season but have still managed to drop only two points in the league campaign.

That was in a 2-2 draw with the Ulster Elks, whom they went on to beat 24 hours later in the Shield semi-final, after a penalty shoot-out at Stormont.

Ards captain Naomi Elliott believes there is less pressure on her team to deliver this season after her team were the centre of attention in the build-up to the Shield final last year.

"Both clubs have been doing pretty well and, like ourselves, Pegasus have been going quietly about their business," she said.

"Most of the media focus this season has been on the Elks so far, which is good and suits us as well as Pegasus, I am sure.

"Looking back it was nice to be in the spotlight last season but it's also good not to have that added pressure.

"The fact we haven't met Pegasus in the league or Shield so far, I think adds a new motivation to the whole occasion and it promises to be a really good contest.

Pegasus acting coach Ali McNeill believes Ards go into the game as favourites when you look at the recent form book.

The Belfast side lost their unbeaten record in the league last week when they fell to a 1-0 defeat against the Elks although they were without team captain Steph Quinn and Surgeoner on that occasion.

"Ards are definitely the team in form at the moment and they have a very strong squad with talented individuals and a lot of experience," she said.

"We are having an up and down season and we have had some inconsistent performances as we are trying to rebuild a team for the future.

"It should be a close, tough match and on current form you'd have to make Ards slight favourites but I hope it's a good, competitive game."

Belfast Telegraph


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