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Ulster sides face off for a cup showdown

It's an all-Ulster affair as Ards take on Ulster Elks in the Irish Senior Cup Final tomorrow. John Flack caught up two of the main protagonists ahead of the big game

Anna Kozniuk's last visit to Belfield in Dublin was one of the proudest days of her hockey career and tomorrow she will be hoping to emulate it when she lines out for the Ulster Elks against Ards in the Irish Senior Cup final (1pm).

She made her debut for the Canada national team against Ireland at UCD's headquarters and, seven years on, and 39 caps later, she's looking forward to a return visit.

The Elks lifted the famous trophy for the first time in the club's history last year while Ards will be chasing their first triumph in the competition since 1964.

Defender Kerry Harvey has enjoyed more recent success in the Irish Cup though as a member of the Pegasus side that beat Hermes 3-1 in the 2011 final at Belfield.

The 27-year-old from Belfast and Kozniuk have a lot in common setting aside the fact they are in pursuit of the same goal tomorrow, having excelled at different sports in their younger days before opting to concentrate on hockey.

Vancouver native Kozniuk played for the Canadian national ice hockey team at under 18 level while Harvey was a talented athlete, gymnast and tennis player.

These days both versions of hockey are a common topic of conversation at Ulster University where Kozniuk is studying for a masters in sports management along with three Belfast Giants.

But the 23-year-old defender is happy she chose field hockey, as it's known in north America, as it has enabled her to travel widely, the highlight being a visit to India for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

"Growing up in Canada, my parents had my siblings and I playing every type of hockey there was," Anna explained.

"I played on a boys' high performance ice hockey team between the ages of four and 16 and then I got a beat up a little bit playing road hockey with my brothers and neighbours.

"But I was fortunate to play with the Under 18 Canadian female national team and briefly considered playing both in college before plumping for field hockey in North Carolina where I went to study."

Kozniuk's favourite hobby is travelling and she is loving life and sport in Northern Ireland but there's no place like home as far as holidays are concerned.

"I've been pretty fortunate to travel a lot through sport and spend time in over 20 different countries but I'd have to say I'm pretty spoiled and proud of being from Vancouver," she said.

"When I lived there, our family usually headed up to Whistler in British Columbia, which is an hour north of the city. "It's a really fun ski-town with some beautiful mountains while, in the summer, I usually spent a few days at my friend's cabin off the coast of Vancouver Island and took part in water-sports which I love.

"Outside of the countries I've visited through hockey, Thailand was one of my favourite places. I spent four weeks travelling around the islands.

"But I have loved my time in Northern Ireland; Ulster University, the Elks club, and the many people I've been fortunate to meet and be surrounded with have been more than welcoming, it's made my experience so enjoyable."

"I enjoy the Irish accents especially in how much it varies from county to county. The Belfast one isn't too thick, but it was certainly an adjustment the first few months with the different phrases."

Kerry Harvey, who teaches geography at Wellington College, comes from a hugely successful sporting background so it's no surprise she's a key member of the Ards squad having switched from Pegasus where she also won two all-Ireland league titles. Her brother Jason is hoping to make it to the Rio Olympics to compete in the 400 metres hurdles while her twin sister Michelle has 137 senior caps for the Ireland hockey team.

"I've been fortunate to grow up in a very sporty household, my dad Marcus and mum Margaret played for Ireland at under age level in rugby and hockey respectively," said Harvey.

"I played under-age international hockey and, at the same time, threw the javelin for Ireland and I am still the Ulster record holder at Under 15 level and won gold in every age group at national level."

Away from sport, Kerry likes her home comforts and enjoys nothing more than taking her two black mini-schnauzers, Coco and Roxy, for a walk and relaxes by reading crime thrillers.

Come tomorrow though she will undergo a familiar pre-match routine as she attempts to win her second Irish Senior Cup medal.

"I always get changed in the same order, from toe to head and I like to get to the venue early and put my shin guards on in the changing room," she explained. "When I played for Pegasus in the 2011 cup final, I went through the same ritual; winning the trophy was an unforgettable experience and there was a tremendous atmosphere with a big crowd of supporters."

In tomorrow's final, Kerry will be playing alongside her cousin Sara Alexander, who was instrumental in persuading her to move to Ards to Pegasus and the extended family will be there to lend their support.

"It's going to be a really special day for all the family and it's even better to be playing on the same team as my cousin," she said.

"Even my 90-year-old granny, Florence Alexander, is coming to Dublin to support us and she has knitted us scarves and gloves to mark the occasion.I think she must be one of oldest people around to have a smartphone so, hopefully, she will be taking pictures of a lot of happy faces come three o'clock!"

Ulster Elks: Rebecca Davidson; Anna Kozniuk, Danielle Wilson, Gemma Frazer (capt.), Kirstie Lammey, Megan Frazer, Dawn Axon, Robyn Chambers, Rebecca Barry, Jessica McMaster, Jordan Page, Vicky McMaw, Abbie Brown, Emily O'Leary, Hannah Irwin, Rebecca Anderson, Chloe Mitchell, Shirley McCay.

Coach: Ricky Lee

Ards: Ashley McIlroy; Tamara Macleod, Erin Larmour, Naomi Grundie, Kerry Harvey, Alana Doyle, Sara Alexander, Hannah Coey, Scarlett Holdsworth, Becky Weir, Abby Larmour, Kerri McDonald, Chloe Brown, Rachel Barton, Caroline Adams (capt.), Amy Benson, Hannah Martin, Naomi McKnight.

Coach: Gareth Grundie

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