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Samantha believes Bann can upset odds to reach Shield final

 

Leader: Banbridge captain Samantha Bann
Leader: Banbridge captain Samantha Bann

By John Flack

It's top against against bottom in the EY Irish Hockey League on Saturday when defending champions and current leaders Pegasus travel to Deramore to tackle Belfast Harlequins.

And that could well be a dress-rehearsal for the Denman Ulster Shield final on Boxing Day with the two top-flight sides aiming to set up another derby when they contest the semi-finals at the Dub on Sunday.

First up, it's the All-Ireland champions against their Ulster counterparts Lurgan with Pegasus hot favourites to progress before Banbridge take on Harlequins in the second semi.

Quins have picked up just a single point from five outings in the top-tier of Irish club hockey so far but have had their fair share of availability issues.

Ireland star Lizzie Colvin only recently returned to the side following her honeymoon and Beth Barr, one of the penalty shoot-out heroines in the Olympic qualifying win over Canada, is still struggling to shake off a back injury.

Banbridge have held their own since securing promotion to the Ulster Premier League three years ago, helped by the success of the Academy school team in the Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup who have provided a steady flow of young talent to the town's senior club.

One of the Academy graduates, the appropriately named Samantha Bann, is under no illusions about the task that lies ahead on Sunday but she's looking forward to the challenge.

"Quins are a strong team with quite a few Irish internationals in their side so it definitely won't be an easy game for us," said the Banbridge captain.

"They beat us in a friendly at the start of the season but we have definitely progressed as a team since then and have nothing to lose going into Sunday.

"Over the course of the season we have proved that we can compete with the top teams after beating Trinity in the Irish Senior Cup and narrowly losing out to Queen's in the league.

"We are quite an attacking team so playing these top sides seems to suit our style better as it gives us a bit more freedom to play and go forward.

"This is the second time we have been in the Ulster Shield semi-final, so we would love to make it to the final this time round."

Lurgan captain Sarah McClure, voted Ulster Hockey's female player-of-the-year twice in succession, will need to be closely watched by Pegasus in the first semi-final.

She said: "We are really looking forward to the game although we know it's going to be really tough as Pegasus are a great team but we will go out and give it a real go."

Fixtures, Saturday: EYHL: Belfast Harlequins v Pegasus (2.30pm); Catholic Institute v Cork Harlequins; Loreto v Railway Union; Pembroke v Muckross.

Ulster Premier: Ards v Dungannon (2.30pm); Ballymoney v Ulster Elks (2.30pm); Banbridge v Mossley (2.30pm); Queen's v Rainey (1pm); Randalstown v Raphoe (1pm).

Sunday: EYHL: Catholic Institute v Loreto; UCD v Old Alex.

Denman Ulster Shield semi-finals: (The Dub); Lurgan v Pegasus (1pm); Belfast Harlequins v Banbridge (3pm).

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