** In a new column, throughout the season, The Hook will give a weekly update on what the goings-on in the Ulster men’s Premier league and beyond
Ulster’s top four sides strolled into the Kirk Cup semi-finals with Ireland’s EHL representatives, Cookstown and Banbridge both blazing an unbeaten trail through the group stages.
Cookstown have been the most impressive, scoring 22 and conceding only two during their four group games. Their second half performance against Lisnagarvey, scoring three without reply has been the highlight so far.
Bann are also unbeaten as they topped the other group although Annadale gave them a fright after Bann seemed to be strolling at 4-0 up with goals from Stephen Dowds, Josh Moffett and a couple from Ross McCandless. Peter Caruth started the fightback with a penalty stroke before Andy Williamson and Chris Campbell scored further goals to leave Bann hanging on for the final whistle.
The semi-finals of the competition take place in Havelock Park next Sunday with Bann facing Lisnagarvey (1.30pm) and Cookstown meeting ’Dale (3.30pm).
The Kirk Cup has served to provide as a curtain-raiser for the Ulster Premier League which begins on Saturday with the stand-out game probably being Cookstown’s trip to Instonians.
The 1pm start will not help the Tyrone men as Cookstown High are away to Raphoe in a McCullough Cup game in the morning which may leave them scrambling to get Irish star Ian Sloan, U-18 international Matthew Rollins and co-coach Michael Haycock across from Donegal in time for tip-off. Inst will be gunning for revenge having suffered a 7-2 mauling to the Town in the Kirk Cup.
Mossley host Annadale with the Glade club hoping to over-turn their woes in front of goal – netting just once in four Kirk Cup games. They are markedly under-strength from last term with upwards of five players on the way out, with John Jackson’s departure to Belgium to play with Braxgata leaving a massive void. If Peter Caruth and Fraser Mills combine as they can, they should prove to be too potent for Mossley.
Garvey begin the defence of their title with a home tie against NICS. Garvey have a new coaching duo with Irish Junior Cup winning partners Kyle Lunn and Nigel Howard taking up the reins after Drew Campbell stood down. Although NICS have a few new faces in their squad Garvey should still take the points here.
The Lisburn side will travel with a few changes from last year as Jason Lynch has joined the professional ranks in Belguim, Paddy Martin and Mark Daniel have both moved to England and Alex McRoberts has went travelling. However, experienced Bangor stopper John Tormey has joined and Peter McDonnell has rejoined after playing in Australia last term.
New boys to the Prem, Belfast Harlequins – who are coached by Irish conditioning coach Johnny Caren – have a tough start when they host Bann at Deramore Park and may find the going really difficult here but they have added former Havelock men Neil Anderson and James Hutchinson.
The final game sees Kilkeel take on North Down. The Mourne men are always a hard nut to crack on their home turf but Down will view this game as a potential point earner as they bid to maintain their premier status this term.
** If you would like to see posts on other leagues in the country outside Leinster, feel free to drop us an email at email@example.com and we’ll see if we can get it on site