While last week’s double weekend was the making or breaking of many teams, Saturday’s fourth round is likely to see some men’s Irish Hockey League final four tickets nailed down.
In Pool A, this is a certainty should either Monkstown or Cookstown grab a win in Carryduff as the two sides with a perfect record meet. Graham Shaw rang the changes in the midweek for a Neville Cup second round date with Pembroke with Irish underage international Jazze Henry scoring his first senior goal in a 3-2 loss with Jake Beirne also on the mark.
But their tried and tested panel, buoyed by a spate of international call-ups in midweek that reflect the season to date, will take centre-stage.
Free-scoring Cookstown represent a big challenge, though, with Andy Barbour still providing a wily fulcrum to their attack while, at the other end of the spectrum, Matthew Rollins’ elegant defensive skills and superb long-passing abilities offers a great counter-attacking outlet for what is undoubtedly the match-up of the weekend.
A draw could be mutually beneficial too, an outcome which would rule out every bar Annadale who would require two wins and a few favours in round five.
With home advantage, Andy Smyth’s young charges will be in the favourite’s seat for the visit of pointless Cork Harlequins. They do have goalkeeper Chris Daunt available once again this weekend having made the trip back from Stockholm where he now works.
Pembroke and Instonians’ hopes are very much on the fanciful side of things, both requiring two wins and then hoping one of the top two lose both their remaining games.
In Pool B, it’s a case of top versus bottom in Pool B, with leaders Banbridge taking on Railway Union and second placed Lisnagarvey entertaining Glenanne. Bann are best placed and could conceivably pick off just a losing bonus point in their last two games and progress.
The Co Down side, though, have reaped the rewards of their youth structure in recent years with many of their youngsters earning Ireland calls in midweek while bringing the Ulster Premier league title back to Havelock Park was a statement of intent after a number of near misses both at provincial and national level.
As such, they have established themselves as one of the favourites along with Monkstown for the marquee title. Railway offer a high octane challenge and, fresh from their first win at IHL level, will eye a shock to keep their sniff of a playoff place with centre backs Kenny Carroll and Peter English in for a busy day.
Garvey’s trip to Pembroke to play Glenanne follows their fruitful double-weekend though they will look to up their game after a fraught 1-0 win over Cork C of I, owing much to John Tormey’s performance between the posts.
The Glens need to be wary of the triple corner threat posed by Steven Arbuthnot, Timmy Cockram and James Lorimer. A win over the Hillsborough side, though, would blow the race for the second semi-final berth wide open.
YMCA play Cork Church of Ireland in the middle of the table clash, both having suffered double defeats last weekend after opening round victories. They sit on five points going into round four, a win essential for both if they are to have any hope of a finish in the top two.
Meanwhile, four more Leinster titles will be decided over the weekend with Pembroke II taking on YMCA II in the Railway Cup final. The Y were reinstated into the competition after they lost in the semi-final due to a player registration issue for their victors Railway Union.
Corinthian hope to make it a cup double after last week’s Inter Cup success when they meet Wicklow in the Minor Cup final. Wicklow, though, have been in immaculate form this term with 16 wins en route to the division eight title with former Pembroke sharp-shooter Stephen Stewart to the fore.
Trevor Denton’s Rathgar thirds look to build on the club’s division two success when they meet Clontarf III in the Junior Cup final while on Sunday, Monkstown’s U-16s aim to complete the double when they meet Three Rock Rovers in the league final.
Fixtures (all Saturday unless stated)
Men’s Irish Hockey League
Group A: Cookstown vs Monkstown, 1pm, Carryduff; Annadale vs Cork Harlequins, 3pm, Carryduff; Pembroke vs Instonians, 5.30pm, Serpentine Avenue
Group B: Banbridge vs Railway Union, 5pm, Carryduff; Glenanne vs Lisnagarvey, 1.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; YMCA vs Cork C of I, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue
Railway Cup final: Pembroke II vs YMCA II, 12.30pm, The Maws
Junior Cup final: Rathgar III vs Clontarf III, 4.30pm, The Maws
Minor Cup final: Corinthian IV vs Wicklow, 2.30pm, The Maws
U-16 League final (Sunday): Three Rock Rovers vs Monkstown, 2.30pm, Rathdown