Having been nearly men for a number of years, Monkstown enter the Irish Hockey League finals weekend in Grange Road hoping to confirm that they have well and truly arrived.
The pain of three Irish Senior Cup final defeats in five years threatened to leave an indelible mark on their legacy as a stylish side but with little bite or major silverware to their name.
But the arrival of Graham Shaw as player-coach has steeled the side, offering them a hard edge borne from his years of success at Glenanne.
The one title that eluded him, though, was the IHL title, most frustratingly in its inaugural year when Pembroke won in a controversial penalty shoot-out.
Having annexed the Irish Senior Cup in March, ending a 99-year wait for that crown, Shaw’s Monkstown side stands on the verge of greatness as they pursue a rare national double.
All the elements are in place from the speedy forward crew of Gareth Watkins, Kyle Good, Andrew Ward and Davy Carson back to international goalkeeper Dave Fitzgerald while schoolboy Lee Cole was a bolter in the most recent Irish senior squad.
Andy Ewington is a man for the big occasion and will look forward to drag-flicking on the water after a sticky Glenanne pitch last week took away any fluidity from the Town corner routine.
Lisnagarvey are their semi-final opponents on Saturday afternoon and will not relinquish their crown easily but they have not had the fluidity of last term, scraping through the group stages with two losses on their record.
Monkstown captain Nick Dee, though, is wary of the treat Garvey pose: “Being last year’s winners and having a proud history in Irish competitions, they will certainly be an experienced side in this IHL finals weekend. Mark Raphael being the experienced man in the team and having showed this with his performances in this year’s EHL.
“As with every team in this IHL finals weekend, the aim is to be playing on Sunday and Monkstown will hope that having already competed in the ISC finals weekend and going on to win there that this experience will be of benefit.”
Garvey, though, have the experience in spades of finals weekends, reaching the final in each of the last three years and winning 12 months ago on home turf.
Defensively, Jonny Bell and Brian Waring make up one of the country’s best central defensive pairings, the former bringing a dynamic element to the sweeper role.
Further forward, Daniel Buser, the ageless Mark Raphael and Timmy Cockram provide the threat with Steven Arbuthnot offering a corner option.
On the other side of the draw, Banbridge are going for a second win in the sport’s marquee event, playing Cookstown on Saturday in a bid to reach Sunday’s final.
This term, they have already won their first Ulster Premier League title in over a quarter of a century, fulfilling the depth of work done at underage level in Havelock Park.
And they ended the group stages as the only side with a 100pc record including a 7-1 demolition of Cork C of I and a 5-2 victory over YMCA.
Steven Dowds has been the key man, firing over 40 goals to date, aided and abetted by the cultured Bruce McCandless and Peter Brown.
They have already beaten their Cookstown counterparts twice in their domestic league to give them confidence of repeating their 2011 success. Head coach Mark Tumilty, though, is wary of the threat Cookstown pose.
“Having already tasted IHL glory in 2011 we are eager to return to the European stage and if the team performs as it can then the final on Sunday is a real possibility.
“We will be concentrating on our own game plan will no doubt pay particular attention to Andy Barbour, Stuart Smyth, Simon Todd and Steven Sloan. We have several match winners within their squad. Stephen Dowds is leading goal scorer in Ulster hockey this season and along with Owen Magee, Bruce McCandless and Peter Brown are capable of turning any match in our favour.
Cookstown had an emphatic start to their IHL campaign winning 6-1 against Cork Harlequins before beating Ulster rivals Annadale and Instonians. But their aspirations were tempered by losses to Monkstown and Pembroke, making it through with a point to spare in the end.
Injuries have had an impact on the Co Tyrone squad, with Keith Black taking no part over the weekend after sustaining a knee injury in the opening pool game in Cork. ‘Town will have to rely on the likes of the evergreen Barbour, as well as recent Irish call-up Matthew Rollins in defence.
Going forward, they have a potential match winner in captain Greg Allen who has an eye for a goal, having scored three in the pool games. After bowing out in last year’s IHL semi-final, they are hoping to go one further this year and reach Sunday’s final.
Men’s Irish Hockey League (all at Grange Road)
Saturday’s semi-finals: Lisnagarvey vs Monkstown, 3pm; Banbridge vs Cookstown, 5pm
Sunday, final: 4pm
** For next weekend’s Irish Hockey League finals in Grange Road, Three Rock Rovers have erected a seated stand to increase capacity and have issued the following information for clubs and supporters:
Food & Bar
There will be an outdoor and indoor bar and catering area all weekend. The outdoor area will be behind the front pitch with a BBQ being run by our in-house caterer. Inside will be a selection of sandwiches, soups and cakes.
The bar is running a happy hour from 19:00-20:00 both Saturday and Sunday with all draught and bottled beer on sale for €3 and all soft drinks for €1 at this time.
As the club has limited parking, we encourage local supporters to leave the car at home and make use of public transport to the ground or car pool where possible. The 16 bus goes directly to Grange Road from the centre of town (and the airport) while the 14, 14A, 15C, 48a, 75, 116 and 161 routes are all within ten minutes walk of the ground.
As Monday is a bank holiday we hope you will stay with us Sunday night not only for happy hour but until late as we will have a DJ to keep the party going. Please let all your supporters know, we would love to be able to finish off the season with a bang!