Queen's title hopes hit by triple injury concern
Queen's University have been dealt a triple blow as they prepare for the final run-in at both domestic and national level, with their place in the provincial play-offs to determine an EY Irish Hockey League place next season already guaranteed.
The students are assured of a top-three finish in the Ulster Premier League thanks to Saturday's 7-0 win over North Down.
Now they now want to add the title to the Denman Ulster Shield they won on Boxing Day for more than one reason.
Champions Lurgan stand in their way of the double but Queen's have been hit with injuries to three influential players who may be ruled out for the rest of the season.
Senior international Erin Getty has a hamstring tear, ex-Ireland Under-21 player Emma Kernohan has ankle ligament damage, while midfielder Jodie Kee is out with a knee injury.
None of the trio are expected to play in the remainder of the regulation season and Queen's are hoping to win the domestic title in order to have a fortnight to prepare for the play-offs.
The title winner is exempt from the first phase of the series in Dublin and there is then a two-week break before the second and final eliminator in Cork.
However, there is another reason why Queen's want to have the extra down time as several other players could miss the play-offs due to exams.
Coach Simon Bell explained: "Many of the girls have exam commitments around play-off time but, if we were to win the title, there's every chance they could fit in one weekend's hockey without compromising studies.
"If we were successful in Ulster, there's also the possibility we could have at least one of the injury victims back in time but even that looks doubtful."
However, with Lurgan hot on their heels, there is no guarantee Queen's will take the honours and it could go down to the wire when they meet head-on next month in the final league game.
Lurgan are four points behind with a game in hand - against relegation-threatened Portadown tonight - and they would leapfrog Queen's if they were to win that and Saturday's away match in Ballymoney.
The battle for the third play-off spot is also hotting up with just three points separating Dungannon and Ballymoney, who have played a game less.
Both are in action tonight with Dungannon hosting North Down and Money away to Mossley.