Division two’s half dozen ready to roll

After another summer of comings and goings, men’s division two will once again be a reduced league with each of the six entrants playing each other three times across 15 rounds of matches.

Portrane and Mullingar’s decision to step out of the division has been partially replaced by Kilkenny’s return to the league after a successful run to the 2011/12 division four title. They start with a road trip to Rathgar where they will meet a couple of their graduates in the form of Brian Cleere and Gary Sharman, their marquee signing.

Trinity host Suttonians with a couple of Erasmus students making them an interesting prospect this season while Sutton will start their campaign on the road as they await the completion of their brand new surface on the Howth Peninsula.

Clontarf have kept the majority of their panel together but are very much looking to the future as Gareth Borland incorporates plenty of the Mount Temple youth system. They face Weston in round one of the season.

** Full previews for all the teams are below

Men’s Division Two: Dublin University vs Suttonians, 12.30pm, Grange Road; Rathgar vs Kilkenny, 2pm, High School; Weston vs Clontarf, 3pm, Griffeen Valley Park

Last Season:
Tenth, relegated from Division One
Coach: Gareth Borland (third season)
Players In: none
Players Out: Stephen Ludgate (Dublin University), Maverick Yow (Perth, Australia)
Summary: Following their yo-yo back down to division two, Clontarf have not had the mass exodus that greeted their last time dropping back down. Nonetheless, the focus will very much be on youth development this year as the club look to develop a larger player pool. To this end, Gareth Borland has promoted five Mount Temple juniors and seniors into the panel with goalkeeper Claude Mollard, Matthew Dawkins, Diarmuid Goggins, Timmy Cullen and John Mullins step up while another Temple graduate from last year, Matthew Owen has also been involved in pre-season.

As such, their extended 20-name squad has an average age of 23. Stephen Ludgate is the one exit, the Leinster U-21 player moving to Trinity, as developing players like Kevin Mullins, Jason Rogan and Cain Cooney begin to play a more central role. Cricket commitments have curtailed Robert Forrest and Andrew Poynter’s pre-season but they both hope to be involved over the coming weeks. Peter Murphy, still continues to assist Borland in the coaching team while Maverick Yow has returned to his homeland.

First Leinster league games: Weston (a) Sept 29; Rathgar (h), Oct 6; Kilkenny (a), Oct 13
Twitter: @clontarfhc

Dublin University
Last Season:
Fourth, Division Two
Coach: Alun Evans (second season)
Players In: Stephen Ludgate (Clontarf), Killian Flood (Suttonians), Conor Stephens (Monkstown), Aran Rooney (Monkstown) Adam Colton (Cork C of I), Alex Simonin (Midleton), Romain Schneider (Mannheimer, Germany), Michiel Schonk (ZSV Schaerweijde, Netherlands), Falk Mahdi (Nurnberger, Germany)
Players Out: Dan Ryan (TRR)
Summary: A minimal exit of players combined with some decent additions sees Trinity head into the season optimistic of pushing harder for promotion back up to division one. Last season’s player of the year Niall Noonan leads the side from the back while their ex-Monkstown contingent has grown further with Cian Speers and Stephen Nolan joined by Aran Rooney and Conor Stephens.

Stephen Ludgate increases the amount of division one experience on offer and makes it three Leinster U-21 players from last term to power the side. Stephen Roberts is likely to be the midfield go-to man but the diminutive Sean Flynn is taking a step back from the game to focus on his studies which could change their shape somewhat. Preseason most recently yielded a 3-3 draw against Rathgar while the side also drew with YMCA 6-6, showing a verve for scoring goals but also a knack of conceding them, something also borne out in a 7-4 loss to UCC. Freshers week may have turned up a few gems with a Dutch player and two Germans with decent hockey CVs are on Erasmus. How they match up to their on-paper credentials could play a decent role in their promotion hopes.

First Leinster league games: Suttonians (h), Sept 29; Kilkenny (a), Oct 6; Weston (h), Oct 13
Twitter: n/a

Last Season:
First, Division Four
Coach: n/a
Players In: n/a
Players Out: n/a
Summary: After something of a golden spell between 2005 and 2008 – reaching the IJC semi-finals as well as finishing seventh in division one – Kilkenny have had to remodel drastically as most of those sides migrated to Dublin clubs and beyond. As such, the rebuilding work took place in division four that they won last term, reaching up an Irish Hockey Trophy final en route. But the nature of their location means their squad of 20 is a youthful one with an average age coming in at 22.5 years-old. As such, they take on their return to division two with an experience deficit to some of the leagues more established names.

The geographic costs can prove a curse and a gift, making for four-hour round-trips each weekend in either direction, making the cats a tough away day. It has had an impact on getting a sustained preseason in place but they will hope to consolidate this season and offer players from the town a competitive club option, curbing the trend toward the players coming through the school and club to either move to a Dublin club or opt for other sports. All but one of the club’s players for the coming season come from Kilkenny College.

First Leinster league games: Rathgar (a), Sept 29; Dublin Uni (h), Oct 6; Clontarf (h), Oct 13
Twitter: n/a

Last Season:
Fifth, Division Two
Coach: Graham O’Neill (second season)
Players In: Mark McNulty (UCD), Richie Jones (UCD), David Meade (UCD), Gary Sharman (Fingal), Stephen Thompson (Fingal), Glen Parnell (Mullingar), Johnny Walker (UCD)
Players Out: Paul Tuthill (retired), Mark Collins (emigrated), Mark Evans (UCD), Mark Egner (Cork Harlequins)
Summary: At the wigwam, the Chiefs have the benefit of a more of a squad for the first time since their inception compared to previous years where wafer-thin crews have left them susceptible to injury crises. Gary Sharman is the marquee addition after an injury-ravaged last year with Fingal. The former All-Ireland school’s winner with Kilkenny can offer plenty of nous in forward and midfield lines and is a wily campaigner.

Should Stephen Thompson and Richie Jones get back to fitness, they will also bring bits and pieces of division one knowledge while the rambunctious Mark McNulty can add a drag-flick and plenty of energy to proceedings. The mercurial talents of Paul Tuthill will not be on display as he formally retires but there is a decent smattering of former Trinity talent in Graham O’Neill’s selection but Stu Cinnamond will be a big miss in midfield for the first three games before he returns from his travels. Preseason saw close run things in a 2-1 loss to Three Rock’s seconds as YM 2s, too, but draws against Clontarf and Trinity and a 6-0 result against Avoca suggests they will be more competitive than last year’s fifth place finish.

First Leinster league games: Kilkenny (h), Sept 29; Clontarf (a), Oct 6; Suttonians (h), Oct 13
Twitter: @RathgarHC

Last Season:
Second, Division Two (lost playoff to UCD), Irish Hockey Trophy first round; Mills Cup first round
Coach: Mick McGuinness (second season)
Players In: Mark Ryan (Fingal), Chris O’Connor (England), Eduardo Gonzalez-Mesones (Santander), Victor Nieto (Pembroke)
Players Out: Harry Spain (Pembroke), Tom Fee (Railway Union), Alan Davis (Fingal)
Summary: Suttonians will look to build on a competitive season where a number of youth players were incorporated into the squad. Experience for the likes of Keith O’Hare (Leinster U16) and Cillian McGreer will prove valuable this time around while Gavin O’Brien and Jack Ryan both were with the Irish U-16 squad for the Europeans over the summer with the latter progressing to the Leinster U-18 selection.

Former youth international Mark Ryan returns to the club after a couple of years with Fingal. The squad has also been bolstered with the signing of a Sutton Park student Eduardo Gonzalez-Mesones who plays for Santander and has represented the Spanish U-16s. Harry Spain is a big loss as he makes the switch to Pembroke in search of progressing his career within the Interprovincial and international sides. However, they welcome back Chris O’Connor who had been working with London Irish as strength and conditioning coach and will replace Spain’s corner treat.

The pre-season campaign has been interrupted as the club and Sutton Park School set about resurfacing the pitch. The surface arrived on Monday of this week and will hopefully be ready to play within the coming weeks. As such, they will have to reverse a number of fixtures leaving them with a tough start to the season playing away for a number of weeks. They will hope to push on from the disappointment of the play-off match last season and eliminate some of the mistakes that cost them valuable points last season. The look set to be one of the main contenders as they keep together most of the panel Mick McGuinness drew together for last season’s campaign.

First Leinster league games: Trinity (A), Sept 29; Weston (A), Oct 6; Rathgar (A), Oct 13
Twitter: @SuttoniansHC

Last Season:
Third, Division Two
Player-Coach: Alan Browne (4th season)
Players In: Eamon Lynskey (Navan), Tom Lysaght (New Zealand)
Players Out: Simon Pearson (Railway Union)
Summary: Preseason form suggests Weston will be there or thereabouts as they got the better of Glenanne and pushed Fingal and Railway Union in challenge matches leading up to the big tip-off. The departure of Simon Pearson’s creative influence is a big miss while regular left-back Stephen Dwyer steps away from the panel. But Eamon Lynskey’s arrival from Navan is a boost while Tom Lysaght, from New Zealand, solves their goalkeeping issues of the past couple of seasons. Alan Browne will still be the lynch-pin in centre midfield and Vikram Singh should be available more frequently to lend his creative skills to the mix along with regulars Enda Tucker, Phil Baron and Karl Taylor making for a settled panel.
First Leinster league games: Clontarf (h), Sept 29; Suttonians (h), Oct 6; Dublin Uni (a), Oct 13
Twitter: @westonhc1

Men's Leinster Senior Div 2