Lurgan ladies won the Denman Ulster Shield for the first time in the club’s history last season and they are determined to hold on to the prestigious trophy by beating an in-form Queen’s side on Boxing Day at Stormont (1pm).
However, coach Robbie McMinn rates the students as marginal favourites to reverse the result of last year’s showpiece which Lurgan won 3-1.
Queen’s are in a rich vein of form and have made several important signings, including Irish senior international Erin Getty and former Ulster Under 18 striker Emily McStea.
The teams have played each other twice this season and Queen’s won both - a 4-1 success in the group stages and 3-2 in the opening game of the Ulster Premier League season.
However, form often goes out the window, as they say, in finals and McMinn will be hoping his team can prove the theory on Tuesday while recognising the size of the task ahead.
“This time last season we had a 100% record, winning all matches and confidence was sky high,” said the Lurgan boss.
“We were playing some terrific hockey and were very fit and teams were not looking forward to playing us.
“This season we are going along pretty well, fitness is improving and the girls are starting to focus in on things a bit more.”
The roles have been reversed this season as it is Queen’s and not Lurgan who have the 100% record in domestic hockey, going into the final.
“Queen’s are the team to beat on paper in all Ulster competitions - Jessica McMaster and Erin are full internationals,” McMinn added.
“They are playing well and their experience of senior international hockey make them players that should dominate games in the Premier.”
Queen’s coach Simon Bell believes Lurgan will pose a difficult test as the students go in search of a first Ulster Shield triumph since the 1932/33 season.
“We have to be pleased with our season so far in terms of results - we won all our Denman Ulster Shield group games and then played very well in the semi-final against Banbridge to reach our third consecutive final,” he said.
“We have only managed to get five league games played to date but five wins leaves us well in contention as we go into the Christmas break.
“We have played very well in some of our matches but we do tend to be a bit inconsistent and there is still lots of room for improvement.
“Lurgan are a top side - current Ulster Shield holders and Premier League champions. Our matches against them are always tight affairs and I don’t imagine this one will be any different,”£ he added.
“They have strengths right through their side and Sarah McClure has consistently been one of the top players in the Premier League and often a match winner for them.
“I think the big concern for both sides will be the very disrupted preparation in the run up to the final.
“From our point of view, we will have gone over a month without a competitive fixture due to the weather and we have also been hit by illness, injury and university assessments.
“We were disappointed with how we played in last year’s final so hopefully this year we can make amends.”