With three games in four days, it is make or break time for Pembroke and their outside title hopes as they take on Rathgar, Monkstown and Corinthian in quick succession in men’s Leinster division one, three games that will go a long way to determining whether they retain the crown.
In the jigs and reels of refixtures, it is a particularly tough schedule for a side that will be coached for the second half of the campaign by the combination of David Passmore and Paddy Conlon.
It is their first foray back into action after the winter break but they have a doubt over Mark Loughrey who broke his nose while on Ireland duty in Spain in the past week. While they would expect to get past leg one of the trio, Sunday’s battle with Monkstown will be the key to whether they have a chance at landing the title.
They got the better of Town with a breath-taking counter-attacking showing before Christmas with the pace of Loughrey on the overlap a key asset. Maurice Elliott has also been in top form this term while they played smart, sucking Town forward before unleashing quick bursts forward.
Mark Ingram’s call to the Irish panel for Spain would also suggest he is approaching match fitness having picked up a nasty strain in that Monkstown tie, giving them a formidable barrier between the posts while Harry Spain – one of the stars of the 2012/13 season – is coming back to form after a lengthy layoff.
Monkstown, meanwhile, have a competitive 70 minutes under their belt having fought back to beat Rathgar 7-1. Kyle Good will most likely be added to the panel following a two-game suspension that will be completed on Saturday afternoon against YMCA while Davy Carson and David Fitzgerald also come back into the mix.
Graham Shaw will also be back having been in Spain with the Irish women’s set-up, making this an enticing prospect. The sky-blues closed the gap to two points last weekend and a win for them is a must, too, if they are to set up a title showdown with Three Rock.
Rovers face Fingal on Saturday with Stephen West back after making his international debut while Peter McConnell is also another who could return. The airport-side are hoping to take out some of their frustrations after they strongly felt they were denied a penalty stroke in their tie against YMCA last time out, a game in which Rob Kelly and Luke Hayden were their go-to men in the engine room.
For Three Rock, they have a double-weekend as they face Rathgar in the Mills Cup semi-final in High School, the Chiefs reaching this stage of the competition at the first attempt. It will not be a double-header, however. That is because UCD were disqualified from the competition as part of the LHA’s sanctions against the club for pulling out of the Under-21 Cup final – due to be played on St Stephen’s Day – on Christmas Eve. An appeal is currently pending but Kilkenny have been placed in the semi-finals to play Corinthian should the decision be upheld.
In the race for the five Irish Hockey League slots, there is once again plenty of intrigue. For Corinthian, victory is a must against UCD if they are to entertain hopes of getting back into the elite competition but they have to manage without drag-flicker Matt Fairweather who is back in South Africa.
A win would move them level with UCD who welcome back a string of newly capped internationals – Nick Burns, Jeremy Duncan and Ross Canning – who will hope they can use their call-ups as a springboard to retaining a top five berth. Kirk Shimmins returned to playing action after a lengthy break on the Spanish tour.
For Corinthian, Tuesday night is another big one, taking on Pembroke on home turf. UCD meanwhile will go to Fingal on that same night but their Sunday date with Glenanne has now been moved back out to February 6.
Railway Union’s point against Three Rock last week bumped them up to fourth and they can take another big step forward should they get the better of a Glenanne side in positive mood after their Neville Cup final success and Irish caps for Richie and Gary Shaw and Stephen Brownlow.
On the women’s side, either one or both of Loreto and Railway Union could drop out of the Leinster division one title chase should they falter in the pivotal tie of the 13th weekend of the season at Beaufort.
Trevor Dagg’s side play host, looking to tame a Railway side that have performed well despite a spate of absentees. With Irish camps off the agenda, Kate Lloyd and Kate Dillon are back in the mix for Nasir Munir’s team though Kate McKenna, Isobel and Cecelia Joyce are out. Ali Meeke is back in the hosts midfield.
On win on Saturday for Railway could open the door for them to move within two points of UCD on Sunday when they meet Trinity in a back match, by extension making for a potential league decider on February 15.
Elsewhere, Corinthian’s game with North Kildare is the other vital match-up in the division with the relegation place on the line. The reds won out 3-1 the last time the sides met but Dean Maguire’s side showed their ability to grind last week against Pembroke, making life difficult. If they can add a cutting edge, it could make matters very tricky for Colm Blennerhassett’s team.
UCD welcome back seven international players for their trip to Glenanne, notably the guts of their forward lines, to make it an imposing task for Kieran Bolger’s team. Pembroke face an on-song Hermes team, buoyed by their big win over UCD and with Sara Twomey, Audrey O’Flynn and Emma Gray back in the mix.
Trinity, meanwhile, start the second phase of their season with a home date with Old Alex for whom Pamela Smithwick and Emma Duncan return before meeting Railway on Sunday.
Men’s Leinster Division One
Saturday: Pembroke vs Rathgar, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; UCD vs Corinthian, TBC, Belfield; Three Rock Rovers vs Fingal, 1.30pm, Grange Road; YMCA vs Monkstown, 3pm, Milltown; Railway Union vs Glenanne, 4pm, Park Avenue
Sunday: Monkstown vs Pembroke, 2.15pm, Rathdown
Tuesday: Corinthian vs Pembroke, 7pm, Whitechurch Park; Fingal vs UCD, 7pm, ALSAA
Saturday: Dublin University vs Clontarf, 3.15pm, Grange Road; Suttonians vs Avoca, 12pm, Sutton Park; Kilkenny vs YMCA, 2pm, Kilkenny College; Weston vs Pembroke II, 2pm, Griffeen Valley Park; Monkstown II vs Three Rock Rovers II, 4.45pm, Rathdown
Mills Cup semi-final
Sunday: Rathgar vs Three Rock Rovers, 1pm, High School
Women’s Leinster Division One
Saturday: Pembroke vs Hermes, 12.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; Trinity vs Old Alex, 1pm, Wesley College; Corinthian vs North Kildare, 1pm, St Columba’s; Loreto vs Railway Union, 2.45pm, Beaufort; Glenanne vs UCD, 11.15am, Glenanne Park
Sunday: Trinity vs Railway Union, 3pm, Holy Child Killiney
Saturday: Pembroke Wanderers II v Old Alexandra II, 9.30am, Serpentine Avenue; UCD II v Hermes II, 11.15am, Belfield; Trinity College II v Railway Union II, 3pm, Wesley College; Muckross v Genesis, 4.15pm, Muckross Park; Three Rock Rovers v Loreto II, 5pm, Grange Road
Sunday: Trinity II vs Pembroke II, 4.30pm, Wesley College