With Munster sides finally getting their wish of home advantage, Three Rock Rovers and Old Alex travel south to Garryduf this afternoon hoping they can negotiate the IHL wildcard playoffs and claim one of the two remaining spots in the 2011/12 edition.
For Alex, this route has proven a fraught one in recent times, coming a cropper 12 months ago but succeeding a year earlier to play in their maiden IHL campaign.
Kate Collins-Smyth will miss one game due to an exam but, other than that, their youthful side have all seven of their schoolgirl’s available and ready to take on the challenge of UCC tonight, Ards and the Greenfields on Sunday.
The Cork-based students are understrength, though, as exam clashes for Ali O’Connor, Eibhlin O’Donoghue, Orla Crowley and goalkeeper Zoe Cremin rules them out for parts of the weekend. Star women Miriam Crowley, Olivia Roycroft and Ali O’Regan though are in harness for Paidi Hartnett’s side.
Connacht champions Greenfields will hope to feature Dora Gorman, the multi-talented sports star who juggles Irish underage commitments to international soccer and Galway ladies football county efforts.
Ulster side Ards — who knocked UCC out of the Irish Senior Cup last term — are the other outfits they must contend with, with two of the four sides progressing.
For Rovers, they face a Bandon-side who are hoping to break the hegemony which has seen five Leinster and Ulster and two Munster sides make up the men’s IHL.
Conditions are at their most favourable for the West Cork side as they got their wish of something resembling a hometown venue after three years on the road.
Their schedule is also favourable, the one side to enjoy a rest day as they play Friday and Sunday as they look to threaten Three Rock tonight with Ireland U-21 Ali Smith’s talents the major threat.
David Smith is a wily performer while Andrew Scannell is an up-and-comer as they look to overturn the 4-0 defeat they endured in last year’s Irish Senior Cup to Rovers.
The Rathfarnham side travel with a full deck, their schoolboy contingent taking a quick break from Leaving Cert studies as the pace of Ali Haughton, Mick Maguire and Tom Samuel could be a game-breaker.
How much Rovers’ late season momentum has been stalled by the nigh on one month break remains to be seen but, since February, they have lost just once (by a single goal to Glenanne) in the last nine fixtures.
Instonians are the third side in the mix, Mark Irwin and Paddy Brown still providing lots of quality while Paul Gleghorne is the powerhouse in midfield. William Robinson adds the corner threat.
Irish Hockey League Wildcard Playoffs, Garryduff, Cork:
Friday – Women: UCC v Old Alex, 6pm; Ards v Greenfields, 8pm; Men: Bandon v Three Rock Rovers, 8pm.
Saturday – Women: UCC v Ards, 12pm; Old Alex v Greenfields, 2pm; Men: Three Rock Rovers v Instonians, 4pm
Sunday: Women: Old Alex v Ards, 10am; UCC v Greenfields, 12pm; Men: Bandon vs Instonians, 2pm