Monkstown, Leinster’s sole survivors, have once again proven the archetypal cup specialists, so much so that they are unbeaten in all three knock-out competitions they have contested this year.
That tally is nine unbeaten games, including their breakthrough success in the Mills Cup and a Neville Cup final to look forward to.
Add in an U-21 Cup final date and their fourth eleven’s Intermediate crown and there is certainly something about the cups that attracts the sky-blues moreso than the long-game needed to secure league titles.
This weekend, they will have to make it through a sea of Ulster talent, though, as the northern province have profited from the weakening of the Leinster league and its European exodus.
Richard Mason and Didi Cole have plenty of injury concerns, though, and have named a big panel for the competition in order to cover any eventuality.
Richard Sykes and Nick Dee missed last week’s league game with Glenanne; the former’s flicking ability could be a big loss if he is still absent while Dee has become a dynamic member of the team at left-midfield.
Andy Ward has been named despite being based in Germany and could fly in, as he did for the Mills final, to add potency to the front-line in which Gareth Watkins leads the line, followed by Kyle Good.
Fran Lee, though, has been the key cog this term in midfield and his ability on the ball to ghost past defender with minimum touches of the ball but maximum grace is one feature Banbridge, their semi-final opponents on Saturday, need to marshall should he be fully fit.
The Town are aiming for their third final in four years, hoping to finally breakthrough in this competition for the first time since 1914 with five final appearances since then coming up short.
Hot off their Kirk Cup win last Sunday – 4-2 against Cookstown – Bann are one of the aristocrats of this competition with nine wins to their name and 19 final appearance but their last was in 1994.
They are the one side to name the bare 18 for the weekend, showing the settled nature of their panel which again includes a decent mix of talents.
Their young fliers – Josh Moffett, Hugh McShane, Phil and Peter Brown – helped the town’s Academy side to the All-Ireland schools back in October while Bruce McCandless is the dynamo around which their forward thrusts rotate.
Ross McCandless has the corner power while his brother Scott dominates the backline, though these could be among his last games in the competition with suggestions he will retire at the end of this season. Irish panel member Stephen Dowds has been included, recovering from injury just in time.
On the other half of the draw, it’s an all-Ulster affair as Cookstown face Annadale – the third and fourth placed finishers up North.
Cookstown, the most recent winners of the competition in 1987, have painful memories of Belfield, losing out 6-0 to Pembroke in 2009.
Most of the side remains though Ian Hutchinson has switched to play rugby, Ivan Steen has moved on, Stephen Cuddy is in a coaching role while David Ames is winning English Hockey League titles with Beeston.
Andy Barbour, after a brief dalliance with the idea of retiring, is in the fold and the fulcrum of their forward promptings.
Annadale are the only side left yet to win the title, falling at the final hurdle twice – 1984 and 2007. Peter Caruth and David Robb have Irish caps while Ian and Neil Hamilton offer twin corner threats.
Sunday’s final will be followed by Ireland’s first men’s international of 2011 when they play Canada at Belfield before moving to Stormont for two more ties.
In Leinster, Dublin University have a game with Avoca to keep their slim hopes of getting back into division one, needing a win over the Blackrock side at Grange Road.
Irish Senior Cup semi-finals, Saturday (both at Belfield): Banbridge vs Monkstown, 3pm; Cookstown vs Annadale, 5pm
Final, Sunday: 3.30pm
Senior International, Sunday: Ireland vs Canada, 6.30pm, Belfield
Men’s Division Two: Dublin University vs Avoca, 2pm, Grange Road
Weekend and Parking information
** The IHA have made a barbecue and beer available for sale which will be located on the balcony overlooking the pitch. The entrance charge daily will be €5 for Adults and €3 for Students and OAPs. U-13s are free.
** Cars coming from the Stillorgan Road (N11) entrance are asked to use the O’Reilly Hall Car Park 2 (as per the attached map). There is a new Pedestrian Route through to the hockey pitch. Please follow the signs for The Bowl – it will take about 5 minutes.
Cars using the Clonskeagh Road, please use the Newstead Entrance which is a red brick-gated entrance on your left just before AIB Bank if coming from Ranelagh or the 2nd right after the AIB Bank if coming from Goatstown. There are two new cars parks, just follow the road around to the left and this is a two minute walk to the pitch.
Cookstown (from): Ian Hughes (v-capt), Matthew Rollins, Godfrey Irwin (capt), Ryan Millar, Gareth Cuddy, Thomas Hutchinson, Ewan Butler, Ian Sloan, Andrew Barbour, Stephen Sloan, Mark Crooks, David Best, Richard Nelson, Greg Allen, Timmy Smyth, Stuart Smyth, Keith Black (v-capt), Paul Thompson, Stephen Stewart
Manager: Michael Haycock
Coach: Stephen Cuddy
Annadale (from): Jonny Moore, David Robb, Charles McCombe, David Smyth, Neil Hamilton (capt), Gareth Kidd, David Nicholl, Fraser Mills, Ian Hamilton, Peter Purcell, Peter Caruth, Paul Ritchie, William Edgar, Chris Campbell, Andy Williamson, John Edgar, Richard Maybin, Matthew Allister, Stuart Chisholm
Manager: Fraser Milles Snr
Coach: Andy Smyth
Banbridge: Gareth Lennox (capt), Matthew Bell, Stephen Forbes, Scott Forbes, Josh Moffett, Diarmuid Reay, Peter Brown, Bruce McCandless, Stephen Dowds, Simon Magowan, Owen Magee, Colin Dowds, Phillip Brown, Ross McCandless, Scott McCandless, Dane Ward, Drew Carlisle, Hugh McShane
Manager: Neil Madeley
Coach: Mark Tumilty
Monkstown (from): Craig Ellis, Andy Ewington, Eoin O’Connor, Nick Dee, Gavin Groves, Brian Groves, Andrew Ward, Gareth Watkins (capt), Runar O’Moore, David Cole, Frank Ryan, Stephen Cole, Billy McEnery, Alec Barrett, Fran Lee, Kyle Good, Richard Sykes, Rob Mason, Gavin O’Halloran, Ross Watkins, Lee Cole, David Fitzgerald
Manager: Tim Dunwoody
Coach: David Cole/Richard Mason