Bann and Cookstown’s fate intertwined; men’s IHL4 runners and riders

The hands of fate have ensured this autumn will be defined by the sparring between Banbridge and Cookstown as Ireland’s two national champions showdown first in the IHL before travelling together to Antwerp to play in the EHL and then renewing rivalries in the Irish Senior Cup. For the two local competitions, this will big bearing on whether the respective clubs return to the EHL for 2012/13.

Having the pair showdown in Pool A makes for fascinating viewing but it may not be the most helpful of states in a hectic period which also sees a number of players from both parish clubs off to the All-Ireland schoolboy’s championships – a heavy toll for young legs of the likes of Ian Sloan and Josh Moffett to name a couple.

Cork Harlequins will renew acquaintances with Glenanne — a rivalry that often spilled over during the mid-to-late 2000s. These are two clubs who can never be accused of shirking when the going gets tough, and who produced one of the most memorable games in Munster in recent years – a 2007 ISC semi-final epic won 4-3 by Glens.

The Tallaght side no longer have Stephen Butler or Shane O’Donoghue plundering the goals, but that’s balanced out by the likely absence of injury victims Paul Lombard and Jason Black, both former Irish internationals who are vital to the Quins cause.

Pool A’s other tie sees Monkstown hoping to continue their hex over Instonians, beating them 6-3 in last year’s IHL as well as in a controversial Irish Senior Cup tie. Getting their strikers fit is the Town’s issue, Gareth Watkins’ battle perhaps a factor in seeing him hand the captain’s armband to Nick Dee.

Pool B sees the return of Three Rock Rovers to the fray in the one change to last season’s line-up stepping into Corinthian’s shoes. They do so with four of the side which saw them reach the competition’s inaugural semi-finals now competing abroad with Mick Maguire the latest to emigrate. As such, Arul Anthoni begins the campaign with six teenagers in his match-day panel with Alan White emerging as one of the team’s leading lights.

They face an Annadale side on a high following their 4-1 win over YMCA in the senior cup with Fraser Mills starting the season in lightning fashion but the omens for an open game are slim – Rovers won the last outing 1-0 in a drab affair in Carryduff.

Pembroke’s rejuvenated bid, bolstered by Alan Sothern and Tim Lewis’ returns, sees them face Cork C of I who enter the competition reeling following a rough IHL season last time round while they also relinquished their Munster league crown.

With Stephen Parker and Nick Burns moving on, it will be tough for them once more John Jermyn could be the catalyst against his former club.

YMCA were close to making a semi-final in their maiden season and could have caused Banbridge all manner of inconvenience, but the Co Down side ended up prevailing. With their panel added to in the form of Allan Dale, Ian McHugh and Stephen Parker as well as a fit again David Robinson, they start their campaign against Lisnagarvey.

Garvey ended last season empty handed despite having the best win ratio – undefeated in the competition bar the final’s penalty competition – and will be anxious to end their run of final nightmares.

In Leinster’s division one, Railway play UCD in a battle to see who has the greater shout at battling for what already looks like a race for fifth place. The Unionites go into the tie without Mark Wilson who has been recalled by his work to England after five months on placement in Dublin.

Irish Hockey League Rd 1 Pool A: Cookstown v Banbride (Coolnafranky, 2.30pm); Cork Harlequins v Glenanne (Harlequin Park, 3pm); Monkstown v Instonians (Rathdown, 3pm)
Pool B: Lisnagarvey v YMCA (Hillsborough, 1pm); Pembroke Wanderers v Cork C of I (Serpentine Avenue, 3pm); Annadale v Three Rock Rovers (Lough Moss, 3pm)

Men’s Leinster Division One (Saturday): Railway Union v UCD, 1.30pm, Park Avenue
Division Two: Portrane v Avoca, 3pm, Grange Road; Weston v Suttonians, 3pm, Griffeen Valley Park; Rathgar v Dublin Uni, 3pm, High School
Tuesday: Avoca v Rathgar, 8pm, Newpark

2010/11 IHL draw
Men’s Pool A: Cookstown, Banbridge, Glenanne, Cork Harlequins, Monkstown, Instonians
Men’s Pool B: Pembroke, TRR, Lisnagarvey, Annadale, Cork C of I, YMCA.

Pool A

Last Year: Winners
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 18 W8 D4 L6 GF 51 GA 42
Qualification as: 2nd in Ulster
The lowdown: Penalties can be  cruel fate  but Banbridge’s ability in the one-on-one format provided their first IHL crown in Hillsborough last May, beating the hosting Lisnagarvey in dramatic fashion. Sandwiching in their subsequent EHL date in Antwerp with three IHL games and the Irish Senior Cup means this is an exceptionally busy period which will go a long way to assessing whether they can repeat the trick. They do so with a couple of additions – Scott Caruth and Ross Beattie among them – while the guts of the panel remains intact though Simon Magowan is sidelined through injury. With six schoolboys also involved in the panel and the All-Ireland Schools competition thrown into the mix, there is a wealth of hockey to be played in this early season period which will stretch their panel to the limits.

Last Year: 4th Pool B
IHL Record: (4th appearance) P15 W2 D5 L8 GF 22 GA 37
Qualification as: 3rd in Ulster
The lowdown: With regard their schedule, everything that can be said of Banbridge refers to Cookstown. Managing the playing time of the likes of talismanic youth Ian Sloan is one concern though the number of schoolboys in the central panel is slightly less pronounced. A loss to Instonians already this term at Shaws Bridge means that they will not want to go into that decisive tie on the final day of the group stages under-cooked – a third of three successive away games after they initially host Bann and Monkstown. The side is similar to last term with Stephen Sloan and Keith Black back in the fray after missing the tail-end of last term. Gareth Cuddy and Andy Barbour stick around for another season, spear-heading the Town attack.

Cork Harlequins
Last Year: 6th Pool A
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 15 W3 D2 L10 GF 27 GA 44
Qualification as: Munster champions
The lowdown: Quins bounced back from a couple of lean years to claim the Munster title last season but Paul Lombard and Jason Black’s injury concerns temper their ambitions to some extent. A hallmark of their progress under Phil Oakley has seen a decreasing reliance on short corner goals, though David Eakins, John Hobbs and Dan Hobbs all provide menace at the set-piece. They have a settled squad too – Darren Farrell’s departure for Dublin is regrettable but gives newbie John Sweetnam a chance to make his own mark – and Oakley has Quins playing an increasingly technical game based on patience and movement on and off the ball. Whether it’s enough to become Munster’s first semi-finalist in the competition remains to be seen, however.

Last Year: semi-finalists, lost to Banbridge on penalties
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 19 W11 D5 L3 GF65 GA47
Qualification as: Leinster champions
The lowdown: Frustrated once more on final’s weekend, the departure of Shane O’Donoghue is a big factor in outsider’s modifying expectations but expect the Glens to remain competitive. Joe Brennan and Graham Shaw line up to make it tricky to penetrate their back four while Gary Shaw already has seven goals to his name in the first month of the campaign. He and Brennan can flick the corners Stephen Butler and O’Donoghue used to be part of. A mixed bag in Leinster to date, big wins over Corinthian have been countered by a loss to resurgent Pembroke. Gareth Carragher is stepping into Steven Doran’s pads to good effect while Richie Shaw brings backbone to the team. Reaching a fourth successive semi-final will be a challenge but Ulster sides don’t tend to enjoy visiting Tallaght – Cookstown and Banbridge will need to raid to good effect to dent such ambitions.

Last Year: 3rd Pool A
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 15 W3 D3 L9 GF 29 GA 42
Qualification as: wildcard playoffs, 5th in Ulster
The lowdown: Victory over Cookstown in the Premier League last week provided a morale-boost and the side features plenty of old-stagers with plenty to offer. Nigel Skillen impressed between the posts while Mark Irwin sniffed around for a couple of goals. Steven Redpath is another with international experience while William Robinson is a powerful set-piece option. Slightly off the pace last term, they look outsiders in a strong pool and they will need to get good returns from their forays to Cork Harlequins and Monkstown on day one if they are not to be cut loose early on.

Last Year: 5th Pool A
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 15 W5 D2 L8 GF 41 GA 47
Qualification as: 4th in Leinster
The lowdown: A summer of surprise  retirements means Monkstown may not be quite as hopeful of making their national breakthrough as might have been as Brian Groves, Billy McEnery and Fran Lee’s departures from the scene has set them back. They have done the requisite in Leinster, beating Fingal, Three Rock, UCD and Railway but were outdone in the second half by Pembroke in their biggest test. Getting their forward line fit looks to be the main issue, one which may have played a contributing factor in Nick Dee taking over the captaincy from Gareth Watkins in recent weeks. Darren Farrell adds to the panel but has been an injury concern of late, too, to add to Ross Watkins and Kyle Good’s limited participation thus far. Three Ulster-exchanges in the next four weekends provide their route and they may hope to potentially hope to catch either Cookstown or Bann unawares amid their busy spell to nick a final four spot.

Pool B

Last Year: 6th Pool B

IHL Record: (4th appearance) P15 W4 D2 L9 GF 34 GA 45
Qualification as: 4th in Ulster
The lowdown: The relevance of their 4-1 tonking of YMCA will be placed under scrutiny in round two when they return to Milltown to face the same opposition. Touted as a side in transition, Fraser Mills has shown a taste for the sublime with a couple of stunning solo goals to his credit this season. Getting David Smyth back from illness will bring extra experience off which John Edgar and Paul Ritchie can learn. German student Titzeun Peukert adds to their panel. They have a particularly poor record in the competition but last weekend’s result could be a sign of things to come and with Peter Caruth’s pace up top they will have a chance in most games.

Cork C of I
Last Year: 5th in Pool B
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 15 W5 D2 L8 GF 39 GA 52
Qualification as: Munster runners-up
The lowdown: Such has been the exodus of top players from Garryduff in recent seasons, you could almost form a team of ex-pats who have all represented Ireland at some level. This summer has been no different; Nick Burns’ venomous forward power is now servicing while Stephen Parker is also in south Dublin to link up with YMCA and Stephen Sweetnam has headed to foreign shores. A couple of young players with representative experience – Adam O’Callaghan and Stuart O’Grady – have gone across town to the Mardyke to play with UCC. On the credit side, Shane O’Donnell – on work experience in Cork – can go some way to replacing Burns and Sweetnam as a corner option, while plugging the gaps left in defence by O’Callaghan and O’Grady. Whether there’s enough quality throughout to wrest back the Munster title – let alone challenge in the IHL – remains to be proven, however, despite obvious firepower and nous of John Jermyn, Philly Smith and David Hobbs.

Last Year: finalists, lost to Banbridge on penalties
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 19 W12 D2 L5 GF66 GA44
Qualification as: Ulster champions
The lowdown: There is a feeling Lisnagarvey left this title behind last time around, losing in the final for the second successive year, falling to Banbridge on penalties. Indeed, they won more games than anyone else in the competition and were the only side on finals weekend to win inside normal time. The loss of Jason Lynch to a Belgian contract and goalkeeper Alex McRoberts to Canada means they are short a bit of talent. Goal-sniffer Greg Thompson has been in fine form, though, while Timmy Cockram is one of the best players left on these shores as is Mark Raphael. Brian Waring and Johnny Gray still have hunger for the fight while Adam Fallis is one of a number of emerging talents. They begin facing a YMCA side ravenous to bounce back from last Saturday’s setback at Annadale but can be reasonable pleased with their road-map in the competition.

Pembroke Wanderers
Last Year: semi-finalists, lost to Lisnagarvey
IHL Record: (4th appearance) Pl 20 W14 D3 L3 GF 57 GA 32
Qualified as: 3rd in Leinster
The lowdown: Reaching last season’s semi-finals was seen as a huge achievement for Pembroke given the glut of talent these shores after the season. This time, the mood is much more bullish and they intend on being contenders with Timmy Lewis and Alan Sothern back while David Williamson is allowed to play this competition after his late transfer last term meant registration was not possible for the latter stages of the competition. Add in South African Matt Brown – who offers a ripping corner and has worked out the local game after initial hiccups – and Pieter Langenhuijsen and they are a much stronger outfit and will be pushing on with gusto.

Last Year: n/a
IHL Record: (3rd appearance) Pl 11 W6 D1  L4 GF 29 GA 24
Qualification as: Wildcard play-offs, fifth in Leinster
The lowdown: The one change from last season’s competition, the 2009 semi-finalists have a much changed side from the one which qualified them for the competition with a half dozen teenagers in place as five of their number now ply their trade in either the Dutch, English or Belgian leagues. Michael Maguire has taken up professional terms in Belgium with Royal Uccle while Irish U-18 star Tom Samuel received a scholarship from the University of Exeter.

With pacy midfielder Ali Haughton out until the new year with a groin injury and Shane Madeley struggling, they have a few issues to start the busy phase of the competition but Jamie Dalrymple has impressed in thus far while Luke Madeley, Harry Morris and Craig Moore have all been added to the panel. John Blakeney could also make a rogue appearance since returning from a couple of years in Japan. They are very much group outsiders, though, as Arul Anthoni attempts to manage the transition. South African Jody Hosking will be available for the latter stages of the competition.

Last Year: 4th Group
IHL Record: (2nd appearance) Pl 5 W3 D0 L2 GF 14 GA 11
Qualification as: 2nd in Leinster
The lowdown: Having come within a goal of annexing a semi-final place at the first attempt, YM go into the competition this season with something to prove in Ulster after a horror first-half performance against Annadale saw them unceremoniously dumped out of the Irish Senior Cup. Australian state level players Ian McHugh and Allan Dale and Cork C of I’s Stephen Parker have been added to a strong panel but Ger Butler has stated pre-season that his main task is to transform the side from under-acheivers into contenders. Garvey are first up before the real revenge mission in round two against Annadale. Of their remaining three ties, Pembroke hold the most demons but, with Jonny Bruton, David Robinson, Dash Hewett, Marcus Richardson and Andy Walker in tow, the side do have a plenty to suggest if they click, they can push on.

Men's Leinster Senior Div 1