With the men’s title potentially being decided at Waringstown on Sunday, just down the road Lurgan ladies have home advantage in their quest to complete a league and cup double against North Down in the final of the Arthur J Gallagher Women’s Challenge Cup.
With clubs facing challenges around retaining players; the women’s game is growing in popularity and constantly evolving.
This year 13 sides competed in the cup competition; standards are rising and it is certainly not the “hit and a giggle” some may have perceived.
Lurgan captain Hannah Grieve takes up the story: “We are looking to complete the double we have 7 from 7 in the league, so we are also looking to complete an unbeaten season. I suspect there will be some nerves because it is not just a final we are at home as well.
"At 21 I’m one of the oldest and we have players ranging in ages from 14 to mid-30’s. We have a squad of 15 or 16, which we have needed due to exams and holidays. Jane Kilpatrick and myself are in the senior NCU squad plus we have a couple of girls in the U17’s as well.
"We have a number who play two sports, mainly hockey and there certainly is a transfer of skills; girls pick things up quite quickly. In relation to any fear factor of the ball, it doesn’t exist – a hockey ball hurts as well if you get hit!”
After a disappointing season last year, the side turned to Derek Heasley, a former Irish international himself and the turnaround is apparent: “Derek has certainly made training something more serious and competitive, without losing the fun. He has worked with us technically, giving one to one coaching and I would say the biggest difference is with the fielding drills, we back ourselves against anybody in the field.
"Our closest games have been with CSNI, but we certainly won’t be underestimating North Down. We know the standard is below Leinster but I know we can bridge that gap, it is closing but it will take time. I love my cricket but hockey will always be my number one sport, however there is a good understanding between both codes, especially as seasons start to overlap.”
At North Down Sandi Harrison is the skipper: “It has been a disappointing season for us, we lost our first three games with key players missing, then we had cup wins and are starting to get momentum so hopefully we can finish on a high.
"On the bowling front, we look to the likes of Stacey Maxwell, Nicky Flanagan and Laura Campbell and I believe we have a strong batting line up, with the likes of Amy Benson, if four of our top 8 fire we can win.
"We have players from 15 through to mid-30’s, the hockey influence is obvious girls can hit to the legside it is off side and defence we need to work more on. I have seen a massive improvement over the last two years, especially in the fielding, it will get better with more experience. Lurgan beat us comfortably earlier in the season, no doubt they were the better side, but we believe we can put that right on Sunday.”