Three Rock Rovers’ first game on home turf since their return to the Irish Hockey League sees them face a critical date against Pembroke Wanderers with defeat likely to put huge pressure on either side to qualify for the playoffs.
Both salvaged points from their opening ties from 2-0 deficits though neither were happy with their conversion rate from chances created against Annadale and Cork C of I.
Last season, the sides shared two 1-1 draws but nine points now separate the sides in Leinster division one while Three Rock have a series of injuries to cope with, most notably Ali Haughton and Shane Madeley.
Pembroke are also shy the likes of Patrick Good while Alan Giles has played only a fleeting role this term. But Gordon Elliott has been more present thus far than recent seasons and he relishes the battle against former team mates Garry Ringwood and Alan Bothwell.
Playing off Alan Sothern has certainly helped but Rovers can be a gritty opponent on their home patch with Arul Anthoni attempting to emphasize work rate.
Both sides will wait to see how their young players survive the trip to Cork for the All-Ireland schools; Wesley’s Kirk Shimmins, Luke Madeley and Dylan Shirley all in that boat along with possibly Eric Foy, Mark Loughrey, Ross Canning and Harry Morris from St Andrew’s and St Columba’s.
YMCA, meanwhile, welcome back key man Andy Walker from injury after a run of three defeats with revenge very much on the mind against Annadale following a chastening 4-1 defeat in Carryduff three weeks ago.
Finding forward fluidity will be key against a defence which tucks in narrow with Neil Hamilton and David Smyth bossing the central areas. Annadale are designed to sit back and counter with Peter Caruth’s lightning pace and powerful slap the catalyst for their forward movement.
Glenanne are getting their away days out of the way early, following up their tie in Cork Harlequins with a trip to Instonians. Joe Brennan is a big miss for them while top scorer Gary Shaw also sat out last week’s game against Three Rock.
The onus, then, switches to Graham Shaw at sweeper and Richie Shaw and Filip Jaros to get them moving. Inst are now under the coaching influence of Mark Irwin in place of Neil Cooke who stepped down during the Kirk Cup.
Monkstown can copper-fasten their place at the top of the division if they garner a second victory having been the only more than three-goal winners in series one. They travel to Coolnafranky to face a Cookstown side coming in off the back of their tough EHL debut in Belgium but perhaps sharpened by the heightened level of competition.
Godfrey Irwin is out having sustained a horrendous fractured skull following a Taeke Taekema drag-flick last weekend.
Ian Sloan went goal crazy in the schools competition but how he, Matthew Rollins – having taken a wound to the head, too – and Ryan Millar cope with such a busy week is another issue. For Monkstown, such issues can also effect David and Lee Cole.
From a Munster perspective, Cork C of I and Cork Harlequins’ credentials as national challengers will be put to the test tomorrow as they face last season’s Irish Hockey League finalists – Lisnagarvey and Banbridge – on Saturday.
The Munster duo have been off the pace at national level for the past few seasons but competitive 2-2 draws against Leinster’s top two in the opening round of the IHL a fortnight ago suggests both sides could be on the rise.
For C of I, they are facing an under-strength Garvey who no longer have the services of Jason Lynch at their disposal. The Cork man has left Lisburn to take up a contract in Belgium while Mark Daniel has switched to Bowdon in England.
In addition, Irish internationals past and present Mark Raphael and Timmy Cockram have missed the last couple of weeks, too, meaning opportunity knocks if David Hobbs find their form at Garryduff.
He will be the centre-piece of the side as John Jermyn looks set to be out for the guts of eight weeks following a fracture in his ankle sustained in training, a hammer blow to the Garryduff side.
For Quins, Phil McLaughlin is the major doubt but John Sweetnam and Dave Eakins should be available for the trip to Banbridge. Bann are shy the services of Josh Moffett who pulled a hamstring on the club’s trip to play in the EuroHockey League last weekend but the heightened level of competition leaves them in a sharp frame of mind.
On the ladies side, UCC’s game with Railway Union is off due to the Intervarsities which begin on Sunday while Hermes and UCD’s games is also delayed until November.
It leaves just four games to be played with Armagh’s hosting of Catholic Institute perhaps the most enticing. Ger O’Carroll’s side pushed reigning champs Pegasus all the way in the last round and have the tools to travel north to the Orchard county with Eimear Cregan and Elaine Brommell having the know-how to unlock a side built on a young nucleus, guided by the talents of Emma Stewart.
Old Alex have a formative experience for many of their young charges as they meet Pegasus in Milltown while Loreto welcome Lurgan in their northern side’s first visit to Dublin in the IHL.
Cork Harlequins host Ballymoney who make the long journey to Farmer’s Cross. With Hermes and Railway both having their IHL ties switched, they took the option to re-arrange their Leinster division one tie in what is likely to be a vital fixture.
Both have dropped more points than they usually might have by this stage and any further loss will see the gap to UCD become ever more imposing.
Men’s Irish Hockey League fixtures (Saturday)
Pool A: Banbridge v Cork Harlequins, 1pm, Farmer’s Cross; Instonians v Glenanne, 2.30pm, Shawsbridge; Cookstown v Monkstown, 3pm, Coolnafranky
Pool B: Cork C of I v Lisnagarvey, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Three Rock Rovers v Pembroke, 2pm, Grange Road; YMCA v Annadale, 1.30pm, Milltown
Women Irish Hockey League
Pool A: Old Alex v Pegasus, 3.30pm, Milltown; Armagh v Catholic Institute, 1pm, Ardmore
Pool B: Cork Harlequins v Ballymoney, 1pm, Harlequin Park; Loreto v Lurgan, 4.30pm