Zara thrilled to force way back into Irish set-up
Ards striker Zara Malseed has been called up to the extended Ireland squad for regional training sessions under the supervision of assistant national coach Gareth Grundie.
The 22-year-old has been rewarded for her stunning goalscoring exploits this season after returning to the Ulster Premier League club after four years playing her hockey at Scottish champions Edinburgh University.
On Saturday, Malseed, who captained Sullivan Upper to Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup glory during her school days, hit a hat-trick as Ards moved three points clear of Queen's at the top of the table with a crushing 10-0 win over Rainey at Londonderry Park.
She has now scored 27 goals in just 14 matches and, not surprisingly, says she is enjoying her hockey at the Co Down outfit, where Grundie assists first-team coach Tamara Macleod when his Ireland commitments allow.
She said: "I am so happy I've come back to Ards, and they are such a talented team.
"Training has been at a great intensity which I love and everyone really puts the work in.
"Obviously it's a great benefit being top of both the Ulster Premier and the Irish Hockey League second division so morale is great.
"Tamara has been great as head coach, and it's been nice having Gareth about helping out.
"Both have such good hockey brains so I am very happy to learn from them and their presence at the club was a huge factor in deciding to play for Ards and it was definitely the right call.
"I have been so happy to get back involved in the Irish set-up and the regional sessions represent a chance to have some extra high-performance sessions, so I appreciate any experience and coaching I can get."
Saturday's big win made it nine Ulster Premier victories out of nine for Ards as they strengthened their claims for a second league title in the modern era, having last lifted the trophy in 2016.
They were relegated from the IHL last season and their main priority will be to secure promotion to the top flight of Irish hockey via the second-tier IHL.
They are currently unbeaten in that competition, with the winners of the play-offs going up automatically and the runners-up meeting the side that finishes second bottom of the IHL for the second promotion spot.
Ards went to town in the second half against Rainey after Emma Reid, who is back from maternity leave, and Ali Carson scored before the break.
They added six more in the third quarter through Harriet Platt (2), Malseed (2), Carson and Francesca Brown.
Malseed completed her hat-trick in the last period when Reid got her second to complete the rout.
Champions Lurgan kept their hopes of lifting the title for a fourth successive year alive when they came from behind to draw 1-1 with Lisnagarvey at Comber Road.
Charlene Stewart levelled from a penalty corner in the 63rd minute after Tara McIlwaine's opener.
Meanwhile, Ireland's U18s warmed up for the summer's European Championship campaign with a 2-0 series win over Scotland in Dublin at the weekend.
They opened with a 1-1 draw and went on to beat the Scots 2-1 and 3-2. Pegasus striker Niamh McIvor scored a brilliant solo goal in the first victory after clubmate Charlotte Beggs was on target in the drawn game.
Results: Ulster Premier League: Ards 10 (Z Malseed 3, A Carson 2, E Reid 2, F Brown, H Platt 2) Rainey 0, Lisnagarvey 1 (T McIlwaine) Lurgan 1 (C Stewart).
Under 18 internationals: Ireland 1 (C Beggs) Scotland 1, Ireland 2 (N McIvor, E O'Sullivan) Scotland 1, Ireland 3 (E O'Sullivan, A Heatherington, N Barry) Scotland 2.