The big show is back in town. Just five months since Pembroke claimed back-to-back IHL titles, the journey for the biggest prize in Irish hockey is back with a familiar look.
YMCA are the one newcomer to the men’s competition, hoping to emulate last year’s sole debutant, Corinthian, and qualify for the final’s weekend. The elements could work in their favour with four big arrivals from down under – three Australians and Munster man Johnny Bruton – to add to their stock.
David Robinson could return but this weekend may be a touch early, a similar fate that befalls Geoff Walker following a hip operation in the summer.
They begin with what could be a defining tie against Monkstown, both sides looking to step up a further notch in the provincial reckoning. Their group will have both optimistic with all sides in the group seeing potential to progress.
It is one of two Dublin derbies with Glenanne making the short trip up the Dublin mountains to Whitechurch Park to face Corinthian as player-coaches Graham Shaw and Lucas Piccioli lock clipboards for the first time.
After two controversial exits in the past two season, the Glens will hope for a more sedate run this year if it ends in ultimate glory next May and currently look the team to beat of the Leinster charges.
Pembroke complete the local involvement with none having to travel too far. The three in-a-row chasers host Cork Harlequins for a third successive year, the visitors this time bringing Irish international David Eakins with them.
Of the other ties, the tournament’s most exciting teams in terms of goals per game – Cork C of I and Lisnagarvey reprise their 6-3 shoot-out of last term, Paul Gleghorne is back to help Instonians for their battle with Banbridge for whom their star man Geoff McCabe now finds himself in Santander while Cookstown hope to repeat their 3-2 Premier league win over Annadale from seven days earlier.
Leinster men’s division two continues with the four sides with 100pc records meeting. Dublin University notched seven last week with Stuart Malcolm an impressive new addition. Ian Gorman and Chris Tyrell face their former club, Suttonians who still have a lengthy injury list in a crucial fixture, even at this earlier stage.
Avoca, meanwhile, travel to Clontarf hoping to reverse their 3-2 Neville Cup setback at the Bullring a couple of week’s back. The Badgers of Navan travel to Bray with one or both going to pick up their first points of the season.
Irish Hockey League Round 1 (All games Saturday unless stated)
Men’s Pool A: Cork C of I vs Lisnagarvey (Garryduff, 2pm); Cookstown vs Annadale (Coolnafranky, 2.30pm); Corinthian vs Glenanne (Whitechurch, 2.30pm)
Men’s Pool B: Instonians vs Banbridge (Shawsbridge, 6pm); Pembroke Wanderers vs Cork Harlequins (Serpentine Avenue, 3pm); YMCA vs Monkstown (Milltown, 3pm)
Men’s Division Two: Suttonians vs Dublin University, 1pm, Sutton Park School; Bray vs Navan, 1.15pm, Loreto Bray; Clontarf vs Avoca, 2pm, Mount Temple