Denman Ulster Shield semi-finals take centre stage

Michelle Harvey, Pegasus.
Michelle Harvey, Pegasus.

The Denman Ulster Shield semi-finals take pride of place in this weekend’s hockey schedule with two closely contested games anticipated at Stormont on Sunday.

Pegasus, who have won the trophy a record 28 times, tackle EYHL rivals Ards in the first tie at 1pm followed by the second match between Belfast Harlequins and Ulster Elks at 3pm.

Ards haven’t pulled up many trees in the national league but Pegasus captain Michelle Harvey is expecting a tough game despite the fact her team are 19 points better off in the all Ireland competition.

The Co Down side have just two points at the half-way stage of the EYHL and lost the corresponding league match 4-0 back in September.

However, they have been improving week by week illustrated by the fact they dismissed Belfast Harlequins from the Irish Cup 3-2 a fortnight ago.

Former international Harvey makes her return to the competition following five years after she missed the last two finals when Ards came out on top against Pegasus in 2013 and 2014.

“The Ards squad has changed a lot this year but this has allowed some of their juniors to step up,” she said.

“It will be a tough game as it’s always a battle against them and they have had some good results recently in both the league and Irish Cup so will be feeling positive about these.”

The second semi-final sees the third IHL team, Belfast Harlequins take on Ulster Elks, the only remaining Ulster Premier League side in the last four.

Megan Frazer’s arrival back at Quins for the duration of the German indoor season has coincided with a revival in fortunes and they go into the game on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run.

Frazer, of course, was one of Ireland’s silver medal winning stars at the World Cup in London and has recovered following a serious knee injury sustained two years ago.

Elks captain Emma Quinn says Frazer’s return has inspired the players around her and the team is looking forward to the Harlequins game.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of an Ulster Shield Semi final and it’s been a few years since we have been in this position,” said Quinn.

“We have a been in good form lately and have lots of young talent and it will be important to stick to our processes and go out and enjoy the occasion.

“Megan brings lots of experience to the squad along with her obvious talent and she has been immensely supportive and encouraging to our young panel of players.”