Men's IHL: Runners and riders

IHL 2009/10 Groups:
Pool A: Pembroke, Cork Harlequins, Monkstown, Instonians, Banbridge, Corinthian
Pool B: Glenanne, Three Rock Rovers, Cookstown, Lisnagarvey, Annadale, Cork C of I

Pool A

Banbridge
Last Year: semi-finalists
IHL Record: Pl 6 W4 D0 L2 GF 20 GA 14
Qualification as: 2nd in Ulster
The lowdown: Another side to be affected by the greater rewards on offer for players on mainland Europe, semi-finalists Bann do without Eugene Magee and Geoff McCabe for the 2009/10 campaign but wins over Annadale, Cookstown and Lisnagarvey (twice, including an Anderson Cup final) mean they could be the Ulster side to watch once more. The powerful McCandless brothers backed up by Gareth Lennox in nets and a whole heap of youngsters has them in good shape. Their home tie with Pembroke could be the tie of the first series of games.

Cork Harlequins
Last Year: 6th Pool A
IHL Record: Pl 5 W0 D2 L3 GF 9 GA 15
Qualification as: 2nd in Munster
The lowdown: Harlequins struggled last season in the group stages and with few changes to their panel, it is difficult to see where the new impetus will come from. Their 3-3 draw with Cork C of I means they have at least one meaningful game in the bank this term and possibly the friendlier of the two groups may still be too much for them. An opening day, home win over visiting Corinthian is a must if they are to reach the semis.

Corinthian
Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: n/a
Qualification as: Play-off winners; 5th in Leinster
The lowdown: The fruits of a full year with Andrew Cronje and Darren Kimfley are reaping their rewards as Corinthian face their first IHL trip in fine form as Leinster league leaders. Lucas Piccioli’s return has been another important factor, working well in tandem with Davy Carson while a powerfully built midfield means the reds will aim to cause a few surprises on their tournament debut. Bar a trip to Pembroke, their away days are on the friendlier side while the two Ulster sides visit Whitechurch. A possible semi-final place is not overly fanciful.

Instonians
Last Year: 4th Pool A
IHL Record: Pl 5 W1 D2 L2 GF 9 GA 12
Qualification as: 3rd in Ulster
The lowdown: The departure of Mark Gleghorne’s from the Old Boy’s set-up to Den Bosch has left a large hole to fill. William Robinson has taken on the drag-flicking mantle while former Irish Uni’s man Chris Kirk has also bagged seven goals to date. Former internationals Mark Irwin, Neil Cooke and Paddy Brown are still banging around but will hope recent troubles in breaking down Mossley and Kilkeel are not a sign of things to come.

Monkstown
Last Year: 5th Pool B
IHL Record: Pl 5 W1 D0 L4 GF 14 GA 21
Qualification as: 4th in Leinster
The lowdown: Filip Jaros’ departure and Fran Lee’s travels may have played a huge role in 50 goals being scored in the Town’s nine league games to date as a chunk of their defensive midfield work has been negated, leaving games open and exciting. The addition of Matt Fairweather and Andy Ewington gives a previously tame corner a bit of bite while Gareth Watkins keeps banging in the goals. Away days in Instonians and Cork Harlequins will define their prospects.

Pembroke Wanderers
Last Year: Champions
IHL Record: Pl 7 W4 D2 L1 GF 18 GA 12
Qualified as: Leinster champions
The lowdown: A host of international stars with Andy McConnell and Adam Pritchard added to an already extensive squad, have to be roaring favourites and will take a mammoth performance to deny the quadruple winners. All their main challengers bar Glenanne have lost key players while they have strengthened making a play-off place a near certainty.

Pool B
Annadale
Last Year: 3rd Pool A
IHL Record: P5 W3 D1 L1 GF 11 GA 8
Qualification as: 4th in Ulster
The lowdown: Incredibly knocked out by an irresistible Pembroke in the fifth round of fixtures last season, they have a point to prove this time round. Leading the ultra-competitive Ulster Premier League, they begin with a tie against Lisnagarvey at Lough Moss – the one side they have not cracked this term, losing in the Anderson cup while drawing 3-3 in the league three weeks ago. David Smyth and Chris Jackson may be easing off on the playing front but Jonny Quigley remains a class act. ’Dale will hope they will not need points from a daunting final day trip to Glenanne Park.

Cork C of I
Last Year: 3rd in Pool
IHL Record: Pl 5 W3 D0 L2 GF 18 GA 14
Qualification as: 1st in Munster
The lowdown: Munster’s standard bearers of late may be using this year as a transitional year as Stephen Jackson incorporates a number of youngsters into his panel. Karl Burns and Mark Ruddle are both absent while Andrew Chambers has retired and Adam Pritchard transferred and Jonny Bruton moving to Australia, necessitating the quick promotion of Nick Burns, Stuart O’Grady and Karl Lynch. Their power lies in midfield with John Jermyn and David Hobbs always key presences and if they can record a win at Grange Road three home fixtures on the spin could put them in a strong position to advance.

Cookstown
Last Year: 5th Pool A
IHL Record: P5 W0 D3 L2 GF 5 GA 12
Qualification as: Ulster champions
The lowdown: Like Annadale before them, it is time for the Tyrone club to begin turning domestic trophies into national success. Three-in-a-row in Ulster but the ISC final pasting by Pembroke and the lowest scorers in last season’s IHL is something they need to put right. David Ames is coming on strong, emphasised by his performances for Ireland in Argentina while a couple more from last year’s John Waring champions are waiting in the wings. Travelling to Glenanne, though, is a bogey fixture with three losses to the Tallaght in three seasons. Two Ulster derbies on home soil before a journey to Cork C of I make theirs an intriguing schedule.

Glenanne
Last Year: finalists
IHL Record: Pl 7 W4 D2 L1 GF22 GA15
Qualification as: 2nd in Leinster
The lowdown: The debut IHL season for Glenanne was nothing if not dramatic as their play-off weekend alone featured penalty one-on-one drama and the infamous time-keeping error against Banbridge. Having said that, were it not for a David Harte wonder save three minutes from time, it could be Glenanne beginning the competition as reigning champions. They have strengthened the panel with Mick McGuinness and Alan Lewis is eligible to play this season after his mid-term move last year. Filip Jaros has missed a lot of the season already but could play a part while Joe Brennan is back after a hand injury making it a strong Glens’ line-up. Only one trip
out of Dublin is another boon making the greens the team to beat in Pool B.

Lisnagarvey
Last Year: 4th Pool B
IHL Record: Pl 5 W2 D0 L3 GF15 GA15
Qualification as: Play-off runners-up; 5th in Ulster
The lowdown: One win in five in November leaves Garvey slightly off the pace in Ulster and will hope Timmy Cockram can quickly hone in on some form after his Irish involvement in Argentina if the Comber Road side is to prosper. Brian Waring and Mark Raphael add experience while Jason Lynch’s skills could come face-to-face with his younger brother Karl for C of I. Their first two matches are key, travelling to two Ulster rivals. Two losses may end any ambitions of progression.

Three Rock Rovers
Last Year: semi-finalist
IHL Record: Pl6 W4 D0 L2 GF 20 GA 10
Qualification as: 3rd in Leinster
The lowdown: The turnover in players and a spate of injuries make Rovers a difficult prospect to quantify under Maarten Bos. Playing a Cork C of I in a similar position in round one, looking to introduce young players, will serve notice of one or both’s credentials for the IHL. While a cutting edge up front looks the main downer of the many ins and outs, Pierre de Voux and Sven Galjaardt have both already out-scored Mitch Darling and Phelie Maguire’s output in 2008/09. Losses to Corinthian, Glenanne and Pembroke says they have ground to make up, though. Getting Peter Blakeney back to fitness is a priority along with more midfield grunt if they are to challenge.

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