You’ve heard all about the league, got up to date on the new rules. So, who’s going to win the inaugural IHL? With the IHL underway tomorrow, I thought it was only good and proper for me to wade in and give my thoughts on who will do what this season. (For a further preview, check out tomorrow’s Irish Examiner)
As a proviso to players and supporters alike, it needs to be made clear I have a terrible track record at this. Don’t get too upset if I have earmarked your side to be out by Christmas, it’s probably a good omen. Here goes…
After a number of year’s dominance in Ulster, Annadale have slipped a little in the last few years and will struggle to make it out of what looks to be the tougher group. Home advantage could prove crucial in their opening tie with Glenanne – a rematch of the 2007 classic ISC final. Jonny Quigley is finally getting more of a look in at international level, joined this week by Peter Carruth.
They struggle on the biggest stage, having never won either an ISC nor Club Championship despite having one of the countries better youth systems and a wealth of underage internationals over the years. After a facile Kirk Cup group stage, they have not won in two league games. Unlikely to progress from the group.
Current placing: 6th Ulster (0-1-1)
Form Guide: Cookstown 2-4 , Banbridge 2-2
Prediction: 5th in Group One
This weekend: Glenanne, 2pm (Sunday), UUJ
A team on the up in recent years and one that will definitely be in the mix for a semi-final spot in pool two. Draws in their opening two games may suggest their not in flying form yet – indeed, they are draw specialists, getting eliminated from the Club Championships group stages with three draws.
Top players like Simon Magowan, Geoff McCabe and Eugene Magee combined with the teak-tough McCandless brothers will make the side tough to beat. A draw would seem the most likely result against Garvey which may prove a key result.
Current placing: 5th (0-2-0)
Form Guide: Bangor 4-4 , Annadale 2-2
Prediction: 3rd in Group Two
This weekend: Lisnagarvey, 7pm, Havelock Park
The balance of power in Ulster has shifted to Co Tyrone where Cookstown seem to bringing through a mass of young talent. Colin Donaldson has joined Keith Black and David Ames in the national set-up and the combination with old hands like Andy Barbour, Ivan Steen and Ian Hutchison led to their title-winning exploits.
They have started brilliantly, the only team in the country to have two IHL scalps under their belt at this early stage in the season and face possibly the weakest Ulster side on Saturday. Battles with Pembroke and Glenanne will probably decide the semi-final places but Cookstown are a side on the up.
Current placing: 1st Ulster (2-0-0)
Form Guide: Annadale 4-2, Lisnagarvey 3-1
This weekend: Instonians, 5.30pm, Shaw’s Bridge
Cork C of I
CI got one over their county rivals last weekend and, with John Jermyn back in action, are the side to beat from the South. Johnny Bruton is another in flying form and should be part of the national set-up in the coming years if not sooner. Combine that with other internationals like David Hobbs and Adam Prichard and they have a tidy squad, though will be anxious to get Mark Ruddle back in nets.
They will expect a win over Fingal at home and should be fresh and up for their matches, given the current lack of competition in many Munster league games.
Current placing: 2nd Munster (2-0-0)
Form Guide: Harlequins A (2-0), UCC (10-0)
This weekend: Fingal, 4pm, Garryduff
A lot is being made in Munster of the lack of youth in the current Quins’ squad but there is still a lot of ability there. Mark and Jason Black and Sean Nicholson have a heap of caps and home ties against Glenanne and Annadale could give them an edge but I just don’t see them getting out of the group. Discipline regularly seems to be a factor and with they could struggle with the green card ruling.
Current placing: 1st Munster (2-0-1)
Form Guide: Cork C of I (0-2), C of I B (6-0), Harlequins B (9-0)
Prediction: 4th in Group One
This weekend: Pembroke, 5pm, Serpentine Avenue
The last side to qualify for the IHL, Fingal are major underdogs in the competition and last weekend’s draw with Monkstown shows a lot about their ability, earning one rather than losing two points having conceded over ten corners.
Brian Gray – if his transfer from Kilkenny came through in time – is a big addition as it will allow David Bane more freedom to move around the pitch and Adrian Sweeney has been in good scoring form but it is hard to see them make an impression on their group.
Current placing: 3rd Leinster (2-1-0)
Form Guide: Monkstown (1-1), Kilkenny (3-1), Corinthian (5-3)
Prediction: 6th in Group Two
This weekend, Cork C of I, 4pm, Garryduff
Two scratchy wins and a stolen point against Corinthian does not suggest a side in the form to go far in this competition but the Glens ability to grind out results is their hallmark. On a game by game basis they have consistently shown they can beat anybody against the odds.
Annadale on Sunday will give a clear indication if their troubles in putting away the minnows is just a blip or just a blip as a result of missing Stephen Butler. Five months ago, they were cruelly denied by Pembroke on penalties at the semi-final stage. This time, the two side look to be in a dogfight once again, with Cookstown in the mix, too.
Current placing: 2nd Leinster (2-1-0)
Form Guide: Corinthian (3-3), Railway Union (4-2), Kilkenny (4-2)
Prediction: 3rd in Group One
This weekend: Annadale, 2pm (Sunday), Jordanstown
The Inst old boys will have a struggle on their hands and look the weak link in a tough group. A 5-0 loss to Lisnagarvey and a draw with division two Belfast Harlequins does not suggest they will challenge and an opening tie against Cookstown is not what the doctor ordered, especially with Mark Gleghorne out injured.
They did show amazing spirit in the ISC last year, rallying against Pembroke
in a classic encounter. They’ll need all of that and Mark Irwin, Paddy Brown and the Lewis’ brothers on form to pick up results.
Current placing: 4th Ulster (1-0-1)
Form Guide: Lisnagarvey (0-5), Mossley (4-1)
Prediction: 6th in Group One
This weekend: Cookstown, 5.30pm, Shaw’s Bridge
The ISC aristocrats got the furthest of all the Ulster sides last season in the club championships, largely off the back of some sensational shooting from Timmy Cockram. ‘Garvey are a decent side, as they were last year, though Mark Raphael and Brian Waring have understandably lost a bit of pace.
I get the feeling they will get some revenge over Monkstown and a result against Fingal but whether they can add wins against the other three sides, I’m not so sure.
Current placing: 3rd Ulster (1-0-1)
Form Guide: Instonians (5-0), Cookstown (1-3)
Prediction: 4th in Group Two
This weekend: Banbridge, 7pm, Havelock Park
Last weekend’s draw with Fingal also says a lot about the ‘Town. Dominating play but they need to become more deadly from set-pieces. In national competition, Monkstown pulled off some incredible results, memorably away to Rovers, ‘Garvey and Glenanne but need a bit more consistency to reach the top table.
Their attractive style has won a lot of supporters but they will need to take on board a lot of the grit and determination coach Rory O’Donoghue showed in his playing days with Glenanne.
Current placing: 4th Leinster (1-1-0)
Form Guide: Fingal (1-1), YMCA (5-0), Glenanne (2-3)
Prediction: 5th in Group Two
This weekend: Three Rock Rovers, 3.30pm, Grange Road
A lack of match practice may be a concern, having just two competitive games under their belt. What is not, though, is the form of Alan Giles who has been devastating since taking over the captain’s armband due to Ronan Gormley being unavailable for most training sessions.
Conor Harte and Alan Sothern offer good options from corners. Probably the most talented squad with five current internationals, they look best placed to make it into the semis from the group. Justin Sherriff may be back mid-season, too, but if David Harte were to get injured goalkeeping cover may be an interesting decision – either youngster Simon Thornton or calling Nigel Henderson out of retirement.
Current placing: 5th Leinster (1-1-0)
Form Guide: YMCA (5-1), TRR (1-1)
This weekend: Cork Harlequins, 5pm, Serpentine Avenue
Three Rock Rovers
The injury to Andy McConnell last week is a big blow and, even prior to that, Three Rock had not been as fluid as they were at stages last season. There is some serious strike power and they have seven games of the new rules already in their legs but, with an eye on Europe in two weeks’ time, they will hope they can peak at the right times this season.
Monkstown beat them 1-0 in the ISC at this venue last season thanks to two missed strokes and the memory is still fresh. A win there is crucial but should propel them through the group.
Current placing: 1st Leinster (2-1-0)
Form Guide: UCD (5-1), Pembroke (1-1), Railway Union (5-1)
This weekend: Monkstown, 3.30pm, Grange Road