Belfast Telegraph

Young guns will get a chance amid Ireland's hectic schedule

Top form: Zara Malseed has been leading the way for Ards
Top form: Zara Malseed has been leading the way for Ards

By John Flack

Several Ulster players are expected to be included in the Ireland Under-23 women's hockey development squad for a busy few months ahead which will feature two major tournaments and a host of other internationals.

The squad will take part in a Six Nations event in Dublin in June and then play in the EuroHockey Under-23 Championship in Cardiff in August.

In Wales, Ireland will be up against the host team, England, Scotland, Germany and Russia between August 9-15.

The Ireland youngsters will also travel to Warwickshire to play three games against their English counterparts at Easter and then travel to the United States for several internationals in early June before the Dublin event against unconfirmed opposition.

The Under-23 programme is a welcome addition to the calendar and demonstrates that not all the focus will be on the Ireland senior team, who are Tokyo-bound in July for a first appearance at an Olympic Games.

The Under-23 games will give the players who are picked a pathway for selection at the higher level, with the possibility of several stars retiring from the senior team after the summer trip to Japan.

This year, there is a gap in the under-age calendar as the Under-21 squad doesn't return to the international arena for the European Junior Championship until 2021.

Among the players who are in contention to make the cut for the Under-23 programme are the Queen's quartet of Erin Getty, Jessica McMaster, Tori Hastings and Emily McStea.

Prolific Ards striker Zara Malseed also took part in trials in Dublin last weekend and must have a great chance of making the squad. She has scored a superb 27 goals in 14 matches in all competitions this season, having returned from a successful stint in the Scottish Premier League with Edinburgh University.

On Saturday, Malseed will be turning her attention back to domestic action as Ards travel to Ulster champions Lurgan as they bid for a perfect 10 wins out of 10.

It's a must-win for Lurgan, who dropped two more points last weekend when they scored late on to rescue a 1-1 draw with Lisnagarvey.

Queen's, who like Ards can boast a 100% league record, take on Garvey at The Dub on Saturday, while in the other games, Rainey, Raphoe, Randalstown, Mossley and Dungannon will all be aiming to pick up points in their bid to stave off the threat of relegation.

Dungannon travel to the Joey Dunlop Centre to face a Ballymoney side which is still in title contention.

Mossley and Randalstown clash head-on at The Glade, while Rainey face Ulster Elks at Jordanstown with Raphoe hosting Banbridge.

Saturday's fixtures (2.30pm), Ulster Premier: Ballymoney v Dungannon, Lurgan v Ards, Mossley v Randalstown (4pm), Queen's v Lisnagarvey (1pm), Raphoe v Banbridge (1pm), Ulster Elks v Rainey.

Senior One: Ballymena v Armagh, CI v Club KV (1pm), Coleraine v Priorians, North Down v Omagh.

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