FOLLOWING the traditional festive break it will be full steam ahead for the ladies’ and men’s hockey teams in East Antrim.
Having been relegated in recent years the senior sides at Ballyclare and Doagh have stabilised at the lower level, and are now challenging for promotion.
Ballyclare, under captain Caroline Darragh, are contesting promotion with Larne and Kilkeel in the Senior League Section 3. Leaders Larne have 22 points, followed by Kilkeel with 19, while Ballyclare have 17, and with one team gaining automatic promotion and one being involved it a play-off, there is sure to be keen competition in the months ahead.
Ballyclare are also still involved in the Intermediate Cup, in which they have to travel to Kilkeel for a second round tie in February.
Parkview under Karen Barr are similarly placed in Senior 3, where they are currently in fourth place with matches in hand.
Banbridge are clear leaders with a five points’ advantage of second placed Limavady, who are under pressure from Owls and Parkview. These three teams are locked in battle for the play-off place, and with two matches in hand the Doagh girls are in with a chance of making an immediate return to Section 2 following relegation at the end of last season.
The Ballyclare 2nd XI are having a ding-dong tussle for supremacy with Belfast Harlequins 4th XI in the Junior League Section 3.
Going in to the second half of the season, Zoe Reid’s girls sit at the summit, one point clear, but their city rivals have a precious match in hand, and the title could well be decided when these teams class at Foundry Lane at the end of this month.
The odds seem to be in favour of the home side, having taken full points from the earlier encounter at Deramore.
This weekend’s fixtures: Parkview 1st XI v Rainey, away; 2nd XI v Greenisland III, home.
Ballyclare 1st XI v Derg Valley, home; 2nd XI v Omagh II, home; 3rd XI v Belfast Harlequins VI, home.
Carrick Ladies’ Hockey Club 1st XI, sponsored by Holmes Builders, will open their 2012 league programme with a 1pm home match this Saturday afternoon against Grosvenor.
When the two sides met earlier in the season at Grosvenor, Carrick very much dominated most of the match but ultimately had to settle for a disappointing 1-1 draw when the home side levelled in the last few minutes of the game. And with two more equally important games against Derg Valley and Raphoe also due to be played this month, Carrick’s January programme is likely to play a defining role in the remainder of their season.
Team captain Trish Neill explained: “Last season we entered the new year badly adrift in the Senior Two relegation zone, while this year we’re in sixth place and playing a lot better. But our next three league matches could prove absolutely crucial as they’re all against teams currently behind us in Senior Two.”
“If we get it right during January,” continued Trish, “ I don’t think we’ll be too far off making ourselves absolutely safe for this season. Then we can concentrate on forcing ourselves further up the table.”
It has been a season of mixed fortunes for Larne Men. A fine start to the season saw the goals flow for the Greenland men, resulting in a place in the semi-final of the Sussex Cup and a points tally of 12 (four less than last season’s final tally).
However a dip un form unfortunately arrived in defeats to Ballymena, PSNI, Ballynahinch with the latter in the league, Sussex Cup semi-final and Irish Challenge Cup respectively.
Larne Men’s next league fixtures are:
Friday, January 6 away to Down; Saturday 14 home to Foyle; Saturday 21 home to Parkview; Saturday 28 away to Portrush; and Saturday, February 4 home to Ballynahinch.