Ireland in Ulster tune-up games for World Cup finals
Hockey fans in Ulster will have the first opportunity to see Ireland's women as a 2018 World Cup team when Scotland visit the province for three internationals next month.
Ireland will know their fate a few days before the series but, barring a miracle, either pre-qualified Australia or New Zealand will win the Oceanic series and the Green Army will be promoted from first reserve.
It will be the first time Ireland have qualified for a World Cup since 2002, having previously hosted the tournament in Dublin in 1994.
The Scotland games will be at Stormont and Banbridge's Havelock Park from October 22-25.
The first of the internationals will be at Stormont, shortly after the conclusion of the girls' youth inter-provincial tournament at the same venue with a 5pm start.
The second game has been pencilled in for Monday October 23 in Banbridge, then it will be back to the east Belfast venue for the final contest.
Ireland were left with an agonising wait to determine their World Cup fate, but matters are now clearly slipping into place after the Netherlands won the European Championships, leaving Graham Shaw's girls as first reserve for the London showpiece next year.
The Irish made virtually certain of their World Cup place by beating India 2-1 in the final game of the qualifying tournament in Johannesburg in July.
The country's most capped player, Ulster's Shirley McCay, who has over 250 appearances, joined Pegasus from Ulster Elks over the summer but she will have to wait a little longer before making her competitive debut for her new club due to injury.
She broke her thumb in a warm-up match against Belfast Harlequins and will sit out Saturday's opening EY Irish Hockey League game against newly promoted Trinity at Upper Malone.
Pegasus coach Ali McNeill said: "Fortunately it's not a bad break so Shirley should be fit to play next week and she's a great addition to the squad.
"She obviously has a vast amount of international experience and it's also a big boost to have signed Lucy McKee," added McNeill.
Belfast Harlequins will have similar aspirations having added Ireland internationals Lizzie Colvin and Zoe Wilson to their squad as they prepare for Saturday's home opener with Monkstown.
All three Ulster sides are at home and Ards won't have it easy against Pembroke Wanderers, who struggled last season but have been busy in the transfer market with Ireland star Gillian Pinder their marquee signing.
At domestic level, the Denman Ulster Shield continues tonight with four games while the Ulster Premier League kicks off at the weekend with the two promoted outfits, Mossley and Rainey, clashing head-on and Ulster Elks hosting Ballymoney on Friday night.
WOMEN’S SENIOR FIXTURES
TONIGHT: Denman Ulster Shield: Ulster Elks v Rainey (7.45pm), Ballymoney v Queen’s (8pm), Dungannon v North Down (8pm), Lurgan v Randalstown (7.45pm)
Senior Cup: Victorians v Priorians (8.15pm), Raphoe v Ballyclare (8pm)
FRIDAY: Premier League: Mossley v Rainey (7pm), Ulster Elks v Ballymoney (8pm)
Senior 1: Victorians v Ballymena (7.30pm)
SATURDAY: IHL: Ards v Pembroke (2.30pm), Belfast Harlequins v Monkstown (2.30pm), Loreto v Railway (1.15pm), Pegasus v Trinity (2.30pm), UCD v Cork Harlequins (1pm)
Ulster Premier League: Banbridge v Queen’s (2.30pm), North Down v Dungannon (2.30pm), Randalstown v Portadown
Senior One: Armagh v Omagh, Ballyclare v CI, Lisnagarvey v Knock