The changing of the international guard takes place at Garryduff this weekend as Stephen Butler and Graham Shaw play their first fixture since their retirement in midweek from international hockey.
It is with a certain aptitude that their opponents, Cork C of I, feature the next two most capped players in the current set-up, David Hobbs and John Jermyn, the latter the second highest goalscorer on the all-time list with 55 strikes to his name.
Butler and Jermyn’s duel at set-pieces will be fascinating as will how Billy Lynch – continuing in the CI number one jersey due to Mark Ruddle’s long-term injury – and Stephen Doran fare in the face of the rockets.
How C of I’s young defence deal with Gary Shaw will be another concern; the winger has been flying since Christmas and almost single-handedly overturned Corinthian’s Senior Cup dreams a week ago.
It is something Cork coach Stephen Jackson is acutely aware of: “They are a high profile team who continue to have major successes in Irish competitions. It will be a challenge for this very young and developing group of players”.
Any winner from this Pool B tie will likely take a strong position in the top two into the final two round of fixtures.
Lisnagarvey currently lead the way but will need to break their Three Rock hoodoo which has seen the Comber Road club come a cropper the last three times the sides have met. Rovers won 5-2 at Hillsborough in 2009 but have had a complete squad overhaul in the meantime.
It has led to a much quicker than anticipated elevation to the senior panel for teenagers Tom Samuel, Ross Canning, David McCrea, Alan White and Shane Madeley all of whom were under-16 cup winners last March.
Canning started the comeback last week while, another teenager, Stephen West kept out a string of Timmy Cockram corners last weekend in the Irish Senior Cup quarter-final. Gavin Bourke is also returning to full fitness after a lengthy absence and could be included.
From play last week, Cockram and skipper Johnny Gray were irresistible at times and if Greg Thompson shows his poacher’s instinct, they could well break the chain.
In the group’s other game, Cookstown welcome Annadale to Coolnafranky at close to full strength, Greg Allen the one absentee.
Both sides have potential match winners with The Hamilton Brothers, Peter Caruth and Johnny Quigley being the main threat from an Annadale perspective and David Ames, Timmy Smyth and Colin Donaldson giving the home team the threat.
In Pool A, first plays second at Shaw’s Bridge as Pembroke travel to Instonians looking to gain the upper hand in the race for the semi-finals.
Old-stagers Paddy Brown, Mark Irwin and Julian Lewis still provide serious quality for Inst but if the Ballsbridge club can get their fast-paced game in gear, they could go a long way to securing a final four spot.
Corinthian host their very first IHL fixture after a positive start to their debut season in the competition with five points from two away games to tie second place in the group.
Their emergence as a serious contender this season on all fronts could receive another boost if they can get anything from their tussle with Banbridge – semi-finalists last time around.
Andrew Sutton’s battle in midfield against Ross McCandless will be one particular brawn-filled encounter with both uncompromising pivots.
The Bann man’s corner striking of late has been a little off-kilter, meaning the usually reliable weapon was a big miss against Annadale last week in the Irish Senior and in a recent league tie against Bangor. If he hits form, though, it could prove a busy afternoon for Ross Murray.
For Monkstown and Cork Harlequins, meanwhile, it’s do-or-die time if they are to harbour any hopes of a semi-final berth with a bonus point imperative at Farmer’s Cross for Gareth Watkins and co.
Harlequins welcome back both Chris Daunt and Colin Ross following their long term injury problems.
Men’s Irish Hockey League (Saturday)
POOL A: Corinthian v Banbridge, 2.30pm, Whitechurch Park; Cork Harlequins v Monkstown, 4pm, Harlequin Park; Instonians v Pembroke Wanderers, 5.30pm, Shaw’s Bridge
POOL B: Cork C of I v Glenanne, 2pm, Garryduff; Cookstown v Annadale, 2.30pm, Coolnafranky; Lisnagarvey v Three Rock Rovers, 4pm, Comber Road