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Kerri's exit is latest blow to Ireland's World bid

By John Flack

Kerri McDonald has pulled out of the Ireland senior training panel due to university commitments, leaving national coach Graham Shaw short of reserve strength as he prepares for the start of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Shaw is already resigned to being without McDonald's injured Ards team-mate Chloe Brown and Megan Frazer for the World League II tournament, scheduled for Kuala Lumpur in January.

McDonald made her debut in the European Championship in Prague last year and has won 10 international caps after spells playing in the United States and for Queen's University.

However, the 22-year-old midfielder hasn't ruled out a return at some stage and will continue to play for Ards, who face a tricky trip to Lurgan in the Irish Senior Cup on Saturday.

"All the major tournaments were conflicting with key dates at university with exams and teaching practice," she explained.

"My academics and getting my teaching degree is the most important thing for me right now.

"I will re-evaluate playing for Ireland if given another chance after I have finished studying and in the meantime I will continue to play club hockey."

Ards, who lost to the Ulster Elks on penalties in last season's Irish Senior Cup final, face a tough contest as they begin their bid to go one better this time around.

They will obviously miss Brown, who is the Irish Hockey League's second highest scorer, when they take on Ulster champions Lurgan, who are unbeaten this season and have also qualified for the Denman Ulster Shield final.

The game is one of two Ulster derbies as Queen's take on 2001 winners and current league leaders Ballymoney at the Dub.

While the draw has guaranteed that two Ulster sides will be in the hat for the quarter-final draw, with Pegasus likely to make it three by beating Leinster minnows Genesis, the other two local representatives won't be confident of joining them.

Belfast Harlequins face a tough task against their high-flying namesakes from Cork, especially as they will be without injured Claire Buchanan, who has a broken knuckle.

Banbridge look to be on a hiding to nothing as they host star-studded IHL champions and current league leaders Hermes-Monkstown in the first game they have ever played in the Irish Senior Cup and which is a double-header with the men.

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