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Ireland Under-21 trip axed after funding shortfall

By John Flack

It has emerged that a proposed trip to Spain to enable Ireland's U21 squad to prepare for the European Junior Championships in August had to be cancelled due to a major shortfall in funding.

Ireland's aspiring senior internationals had been invited to take part in a Six Nations tournament in Valencia last month but the national governing body was unable to finance the venture.

Parents of the players, including several from Ulster, were then asked to chip in €1,000 (approximately £890) per head but there was an insufficient number willing or able to make such a significant contribution.

As a result, the Ireland U21s were denied the opportunity to take part in what would have been an invaluable series of competitive matches ahead of the Europeans, which also take place in Valencia in the summer.

It had been hoped that, in light of the men's team qualifying for the Rio Olympics, increased funding would become available but this has clearly not been the case.

Eight Ulster players are in the Irish U21 panel, and Queen's strikers Jessica McMaster and Tori Hastings and Pegasus duo Ruth Maguire and Robyn Chambers are also in the senior squad.

It's likely that most of the U21s who are also on the senior panel will be released for the European Junior Championships as a clash of dates means they will be unable to play in the senior European tournament as well.

However, Randalstown's Zoe Wilson, who plays most of her hockey in Germany, and UCD's Lena Tice are now established in the senior squad and are not included in the U21 panel.

Meanwhile, the EY Irish Hockey League continues this weekend with a local derby between Belfast Harlequins and Ards.

Ards made it two wins in a row on Saturday when they beat Ulster Elks 2-1 and hold a three-point advantage over Harlequins, adding significance to the game at Deramore.

The Elks, who have just three points on the board, don't want to be cut further adrift but will do well to take anything from their trip to Dublin where they face Railway Union, who beat them 7-0 in the Irish Senior Cup.

Pegasus, who are away to UCD, will be hoping to capitalise when the only two sides with perfect records, Monkstown and Cork Harlequins, clash head-on in Dublin.

In the Ulster Premier League's top game, early pacesetters Ballymoney won't have it easy when they travel to Dungannon.

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