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Irish head to South Africa for warm-up

Welcome return: Shirley McKay
Welcome return: Shirley McKay

By John Flack

Ireland's women are planning a warm weather trip to South Africa in January to kick-start their preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

It is hoped that they will take part in a Four Nations tournament against opposition still to be confirmed and combine the competitive side of things with some intensive training.

In the meantime, the extended squad - with eight Ulster players on the roster - will take part in regional training sessions and concentrate on individual fitness work and club hockey.

The bulk of the internationals will be in action in an EY Irish Hockey League double-header over the weekend.

Shirley McCay, who earned her 301st cap in the Canada Olympic qualifiers, will make a welcome return to the Pegasus side, who tackle Catholic Institute and Cork Harlequins on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

McCay missed the opening 1-0 win over Railway Union as she was attending her Irish team-mate Lizzie Colvin's wedding in South Africa.

Colvin is still on honeymoon and will be unavailable for Belfast Harlequins' double-bill against their Cork namesakes and Catholic Institute at Deramore.

Quins will be aiming to bounce back from a disappointing opening 2-0 loss to Old Alex in Dublin.

They expect to have one of Ireland's penalty shoot-out heroines in the Olympic qualifying win, Bethany Barr, in the squad after she sat out last week's game due to a back spasm.

Quins captain Linzi Hamilton will be looking for a more clinical touch from her team in front of goal in the weekend games.

"We created plenty of goalscoring opportunities but they were more clinical at crucial moments in the defensive and attacking circles," she said.

"We'll be looking to improve on that and convert opportunities into goals across the double-header, and we are looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting and positive weekend."

FIXTURES: Saturday: EY Irish Hockey League: Belfast Harlequins v Cork Harlequins (2.30pm), Loreto v UCD (2.45pm), Muckross v Old Alex (3.15pm), Pegasus v Catholic Institute (2.30pm), Railway Union v Pembroke (2.30pm); Irish Hockey Trophy: North Down v Raphoe (1pm), Bray v Lisnagarvey (2.15pm), Armagh v Rathgar (2.30pm), Portadown v Mossley (2.30pm); Ulster Premier: Ards v Randalstown (2.30pm), Ballymoney v Lurgan (2.30pm), Queen's v Dungannon (1pm), Ulster Elks v Banbridge (2.30pm); Senior One: Ballymena v Omagh (2.30pm), Dromore v Club KV (2.30pm); Ulster Schoolgirls Supercup Semi-Finals (Stormont): Rainey v Strathearn (9.15am), BRA v Banbridge Academy (11.15am); Sunday: EY IHL: Belfast Harlequins v Catholic Institute (1pm), Loreto v Muckross (3pm), Old Alex v Railway Union (2.30pm), Pegasus v Cork Harlequins (1pm), UCD v Pembroke (2.30pm).

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