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McCay is sidelined for Elks' promotion challenge

By John Flack

Shirley McCay has been ruled out of the Ulster Elks' European Championship bid in Prague this weekend, representing a huge blow to the Jordanstown side's promotion chances.

Ireland's most-capped player sustained a badly damaged finger in a warm-up match with Japan ahead of the Hawke's Bay invitational tournament in New Zealand last month.

Due to the extent of the injury, McCay has been told she must keep her finger in plaster for two more weeks.

McCay, who has amassed 211 caps, is generally regarded as one of the best players in Ireland having helped the Elks lift consecutive Irish Senior Cups.

However, she will be in the Czech capital this weekend to lend her support to her team-mates, who are competing in Europe for the first time.

Due to the retrospective nature of the qualification process, the Elks are, in effect, competing to determine in which division Pegasus take part next season.

Ricky Lee's side have been drawn in a tough group along with hosts Slavia, Swansea and Edinburgh University as they initially bid for a top-two finish in their section.

If they can achieve that goal, one more win in a cross-over match on Monday will earn Pegasus promotion to the second tier next season.

Lee said: "Pembroke found it tough last year when they were relegated from the second tier, so we know it's going to be extremely difficult for us.

"But we are in it to win it or certainly make it into the top two and a lot will probably depend on our game with Edinburgh, who won the league and cup double in Scotland.

"Slavia, as hosts, will be difficult while Swansea have plenty of experience at this level."

Pegasus are also in Europe and their task is even more daunting as they are competing among Europe's elite in the top-flight in Bilthoven, near Utrecht.

Their aim is simple - to keep Ireland at this level by avoiding a bottom-two finish which would ensure that this year's All-Ireland champions, Hermes, have a similar tournament to look forward to in 12 months' time.

Pegasus captain Alex Speers said: "It's going to be difficult but we are up for the challenge and this is why you play sport - to pit yourself against the best."

Pegasus open with a massively difficult quarter-final against Madrid side Club de Campo.

If they lose, they will go into the relegation group but if they defy the odds and win then they would then be playing off for a place in the top four.

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