Injury forces World Cup star Zoe out of Shield final
Belfast Harlequins have been dealt a major blow ahead of Boxing Day's Denman Ulster Shield final with Pegasus at Lisnagarvey (1.15pm) with confirmation that one of their star players, Zoe Wilson, is to miss the game due to injury.
The Ireland World Cup silver medallist has been suffering from a hamstring complaint in recent weeks and has lost her fitness battle.
Harlequins captain Rachel Johnston is naturally bitterly disappointed at the setback but her team does include another of Ireland's World Cup heroines in Wilson's midfield partner Lizzie Colvin.
"We are gutted to not have Zoe playing as she makes a big difference to the intensity and pace of our game," Johnston said.
"But even when we had to do without her, the team has performed really well in our four other Shield games to date when we beat the top four teams in the Ulster Premier League."
Harlequins, who have yet to win the prestigious trophy despite five appearances in the final, will start as underdogs against the 28-times Shield champions.
Quins had to work hard for their 2-1 semi-final win over Ulster Elks while Pegasus produced a classy performance to crush EY Irish Hockey League rivals Ards 7-2.
The contestants in the Boxing Day final have drawn twice in the Irish Hockey League in the past two seasons, with Pegasus edging out Quins 1-0 in the semi-final of the Irish Senior Cup earlier this year.
"We believe we can step up our game another gear or two, and we will definitely need to if we are going to beat Pegasus," Johnston added.
"They have great pace up front and are very clinical in the circle so, defensively, we need to stay strong and keep the concentration going throughout the full game.
"We always have close games against them and the cup semi the last time we met was the same and we were disappointed not to win and get through to the Irish Cup final.
"So, all of this is extra motivation for us to ensure this time we do get that elusive win over Pegasus and get that monkey off our backs."
Pegasus captain Michelle Harvey is expecting a tough contest as her team aim to extend their remarkable success run in the competition. "I was very pleased with the team's performance in the semi-final," said the former international.
"We were very strong at times but we are always looking at areas to improve and take it to the next level.
"Playing Harlequins is always a battle as you would expect from a local derby and we are looking forward to our first head-to-head of the season.
"The Ulster Shield final is our first chance of getting our hands on silverware for some time and it is always a pleasure and honour to play in.
"I am really enjoying captaining the team after returning home from playing in Belgium and Pegasus is a special club with a lot of history and that means a lot to me, so let's hope we can make some more on Boxing Day."
The second of the women's festive finals takes place on Saturday at Stormont Playball where Raphoe and Omagh meet in the Ulster Senior Cup decider (2pm).
There are no other senior women's games over the Christmas and New Year break, with the Ulster Premier League and the three Senior League programmes due to resume on Saturday January 5.