Amid a rollercoaster of emotions on the international stage, Leinster men’s division one could well produce a winner this weekend, especially after last Monday’s 16th round of matches slipped in under the radar.
Draws for Glenanne and Pembroke last time around have thrust the impetus back Monkstown’s way and, whilst their results have been sketchy since Christmas, the title race is very much centred on what they do.
Dave Fitzgerald is back available after international duty but Gareth Watkins will be out most likely until the IHL games after sustaining an ankle injury in the warm-up to one of the Czech Republic games prior to the Olympic qualifiers.
But Stephen and David Cole have another week of fitness back under their belt, returning to league action on Monday after a couple of months out each.
It is well timed for their trip out to the beach in Fingal, a side in their best form of the season with seven points from their last nine as David Bane finally gets a decent run of games under his belt and Adrian Sweeney a lively threat.
They mathematically need a point to be free of any lingering relegation worries, making this far from a gimme.
Get over that hurdle and Sunday’s date with Pembroke can finish off the Serpentine Road club’s title ambitions. Initially scheduled for over a month ago, the refix has seen many swings in terms of player availability with Pembroke very much losing out in the final tally.
Monkstown are closing in on the panel which built an eight-point advantage at the top of the division while, in the interim, Alan Sothern’s knee remains unsolved while Alan Giles has a slipped disc in his back.
Patrick Good’s hip is another long standing issue while Matt Brown’s non-return from South Africa, among other travails, have yielded only five points from the last 12 to see their challenge stutter since the start of February.
The other point in the triangle gunning for top on March 31 are Glenanne who have another major test against a side with plenty to play for.
YMCA delayed the Tallaght’s title march last season, sending it down to the last day, with a spectacular late draw and they are still looking to pin down an automatic IHL place.
Iain Walker and Joe Brennan are the international calibre absentees with the Glens still reeling from the last second goal which denied them victory at UCD. But Eddie O’Malley is bang in form, his poaching qualities bringing him to a dozen for the season.
Pembroke, meanwhile, are hoping to avoid a repeat of the 6-4 mauling they sustained against UCD earlier in the season. But, away from Belfield, the students have yet to gain a single point this term, a factor which will lend hope to Clontarf.
Especially so as UCD have had to relinquish home advantage on the final day of the season against Three Rock due to IHA pitch bookings for the Irish Hockey Trophy and Challenge finals taking precedence.
For the bulls, though, it really looks the last chance saloon as they face a Corinthian side minus player-coach Lucas Piccioli – currently in Belgium with the Irish women’s team – and little bar their tussle for sixth place to play for.
James Gurbiel has since left Dublin for Bordeaux, leaving the likes of Rob Kelly, Tom Noonan and Maverick Yow as their go-to men if they are to grab a second win of the campaign.
Railway Union, meanwhile, will aim to record a fourth victory of the campaign over a Three Rock side light on forward options. Peter Blakeney made a return last week from the international setup for the Tarf game but is unavailable once more due to a family commitment.
Ross Canning is struggling for fitness but Luke Madeley and Harry Morris could return to action while Ross Boreland will continue for a second game between the posts for Railway.
The former Lisnagarvey man impressed between the posts on debut against Pembroke in an under-par but scrapping performance from the Park Avenue side.
In division two, Avoca will hope to make Saturday their coronation as division two champions. Sean Walsh’s 19-goal haul this term has gone a long way to getting them over the line this season and will be someone the Blackrock side desperately need to replace in the top tier should they get the draw they require.
Nonetheless, Avoca’s commitment to their youth setup in the past five years has put the club back on a good footing with the likes of Peter Haughton, Martin Naughton, Mark Haughton and Stefan Gallagher among those coming through the system.
In midweek, Enda Gallanagh opened the scoring and is one of the links back to the great side of 1996 along with coach Mark Cullen who won the Irish Senior Cup.
Trinity will hope to upset the party in their last game of the campaign but do so without Stephen Nolan through a broken thumb while Suttonians have a couple of games against Mullingar which could lift them level should Avoca lose twice.
Weston are hopeful of Sutton slips as they face Rathgar.
Fixtures (Saturday unless stated)
Men’s Leinster Division One: Fingal vs Monkstown, 1.45pm, ALSAA; Clontarf vs Corinthian, 2pm, Mount Temple; YMCA vs Glenanne, 11.30am, Alexandra College Milltown; Three Rock Rovers vs Railway Union, 2.15pm, Grange Road; Pembroke Wanderers vs UCD, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue
Sunday: Monkstown vs Pembroke, 3pm, Rathdown
Division Two: Suttonians vs Mullingar, 3pm, Sutton Park; Avoca vs Dublin University, 1pm, Newpark; Weston vs Rathgar, 4pm, Griffeen Valley Park
Railway Cup Semi Finals, Sunday: Pembroke Wanderers vs Glenanne, 5.15pm, Serpentine Avenue; Navan vs Monkstown, 12pm, Kings Hospital