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Raphoe and Portadown are given top-flight bonus

By John Flack

Raphoe are set to be handed a place in the Ulster Premier League for the first time next season in a knock-on effect from Belfast Harlequins’ qualification for the EY Irish Hockey League.

To compensate for the south Belfast team’s absence, which leaves the league a team short, the scheduled relegation-promotion play-off between Raphoe and Portadown has been cancelled and it’s likely that both sides will now feature in the top tier.

If the move is rubber-stamped as expected by Ulster Hockey’s competitions’ committee, it would represent a massive boost for the Donegal side, who finished runners-up to Banbridge in their first season in Senior One.

Portadown will be relieved to have retained their top-flight status without a play-off while it’s expected that Omagh will be promoted to Senior One where they’ll be joined by Victorians, whose play-off with the Tyrone side has also been cancelled.

Meanwhile, Harlequins are looking forward to dining at Irish hockey’s top table after a 4-1 play-off win over UCC at Banbridge on Sunday clinched them a place in the IHL at the Cork students’ expense.

It’s a dream come true for Harlequins captain Claire Weir, who scored two of the goals and set up another in an emphatic win over the Munster side, after she moved from Senior One side Cookstown two years ago.

“Cookstown is a club close to my heart, although at times I wish I had made the move a wee bit earlier as I am now 31, but it’s great to have qualified for the IHL,” she said.

“Playing with Quins reminds me a bit of my time at Cookstown; there’s a real family atmosphere at Deramore, they’ve been so welcoming and they look out for you more than just on the hockey pitch.

“Last year we were in relegation trouble, so we wanted to at least come in the top three in Ulster and ultimately to qualify for the IHL as we want to play the best standard of hockey we can.”

Claire is well aware that it won’t be easy for Harlequins to compete with the top teams in the country and she is hoping the club can recruit more players to ease the transition.

There is a feast of hockey this weekend with the junior finals being staged at Stormont on Saturday and the President’s Cup decider between Randalstown and Queen’s on Sunday at the same venue.

Queen’s are out to avenge their Denman Ulster Shield final defeat by Town while in Cork, Ulster will be bidding to lift the junior inter-provincial title.

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