Railway face down Garvey challenge

Irish Senior Cup – finals weekend preview (word with thanks to Alan Good)
Opportunity knocks as the biggest test for Railway Union’s new found confidence offers a delicious date with newly crowned Irish Hockey League champions Lisnagarvey in the second men’s Irish Senior Cup semi-final.

Playing an uncomplicated format, the Park Avenue outfit, backboned by Kenny Carroll, Rob Abbott and Peter and Mark English, are Ireland’s most improved side and are certainly among the most hard-working.

Using pace, combined with an aerial assault for their glut of free-scoring forwards, they have a tactic that can cause problems even if penned back, something which YMCA last Sunday never came to terms with.

They were Leinster’s top goalscorers this term, have secured IHL hockey for the first time and have been hugely impressive in hitting 19 goals in three games as they saw off Glenanne, Three Rock and South Antrim en route to the last four.

‘Garvey will nonetheless start as favourites having annexed a first IHL title last weekend, with tournament MVP Timmy Cockram in ruthless goalscoring form.

Whoever wins that one will also be heavily backed to go on to win Sunday’s decider – not least due to an extra two hours’ rest. But given the ravages of time could see Cork Harlequins in transition over the next few seasons, few will match the Leesiders for motivation to create another fairytale.

The past should prove an inspiration rather than a burden for Quins as they bid to become the longest odds Irish Senior Cup winners in some time.

Few inside or outside Farmer’s Cross would have put the men in black and white down as likely semi-finalists at the start of this campaign, having been missing from the business end of national competition since their breakthrough ISC victory in 2006.

That marvelous 2-1 success over Lisnagarvey got a monkey off their backs, having lost three of the four previous finals, but they haven’t featured at this stage of world hockey’s oldest club tournament since a controversial semi-final defeat to Glenanne in 2007.

But now, having dispatched Ulster opponents Banbridge and Annadale in home ties to get there, Munster’s double-winners are back where they want to be, locking horns with Instonians in tomorrow’s semi-final (5pm).

Amazingly, there are no shortage of links to the 2006 vintage. Eight of the current Quins panel were involved that day, with two more unused substitutes, highlighting the longevity of the likes of the Black and Lombard brothers but also the lack of youth injected into the side in recent seasons.

With the ISC now played out in a finals weekend format, that could leave Quins potentially short on legs if they reach Sunday’s decider against either Lisnagarvey or Railway Union.

But when it comes to top-level know-how, Quins have a bank of experience only ‘Garvey can come close to matching, with Brian Waring, Mark Raphael, Timmy Cockram and Stevie Arbuthnot all survivors from six years ago.

Drawing Instonians in the last four will have been met with quiet hope by Quins fans. The Cork men recorded their sole Irish Hockey League victory against the Shaw’s Bridge outfit, who haven’t had to leave Belfast in seeing off North Down, Mossley and NICS – where they required a last-minute Julian Lewis winner – to get this far.

Complacency certainly won’t be on the Quins agenda. Mark Irwin and Paul Gleghorne offer bags of classy Irish international experience in the spine of the side while William Robinson, Chris Kirk and Irish Unis man James Corry all offer big threats – not to mention Steven Redpath, who hit a memorable IHL goal against Quins a few seasons back.

The women’s Irish Senior Cup semi-finals bring the tantalising prospect of a repeat of Sunday’s IHL final between Railway and Loreto, although UCD in particular will hope to have something to say about that.

Railway head into their clash with the Belfielders on a high after securing their second national title in three seasons, and can bring the confidence of having gone unbeaten in normal time throughout this season.

They’ve never won this title and have reached just one final, in 2010 when they went down to – you’ve guessed it – Loreto on penalty strokes.

But UCD have the confidence of having pipped Railway to the Leinster title on goals scored, and although the majority of the side who won a shock ISC crown in 2009 have moved on, they have a phalanx of Irish international talent to call upon.

Loreto will be unbackable favourites to advance against a Queen’s side who have hit the goal trail in a major way as the tournament’s surprise package, despite an average domestic campaign which saw them finish sixth in Ulster’s top tier.

Joanne Orr and Hannah McMillan are the major goal-getters for the Belfast students but Loreto have an axe to grind after seeing a last-gasp IHL final equaliser chalked off, and should have enough class throughout to execute an effective backlash.

Irish Senior Cup finals weekend, Belfield
Saturday: Women’s semi-finals:
UCD v Railway Union, 10.30am; Loreto v Queen’s University, 12.30pm.
Men’s semi-finals: Railway Union v Lisngarvey, 3pm; Cork Harlequins v Instonians, 5pm.
Sunday: Women’s final, 1pm; Men’s final, 3.30pm.

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