Ulster’s controlled Under-21 interprovincial performance means they will justifiably provide the mainstay of Johnny Caren’s Irish set-up for this week’s Four Nations series in Mossley as Ireland host Germany, England and Scotland.
The northern province were a cut above over the weekend in Grange Road, adding a 1-0 win over Leinster on Saturday evening to a Friday night 4-2 win over Munster. The latter win was courtesy of a Johnny McKee reverse-stick strike but, despite the slender scoreline, there were not overly troubled by the blues who struggled to create meaningful chances.
Ulster duly ran up a stylish 5-0 win on Sunday over the Irish Under-18s yesterday while Munster finished second overall by beating Leinster 2-1 in the final game of the competition.
In that latter tie, Julian Dale put the southern province ahead before Stuart Miller finished off a great right-wing overlap with a calmly slotted finish. From there, the tie got incredibly stretched and Leinster did get one back via Jeremy Duncan’s run and cross to allow Simon McKeever a simple finish.
McKeever was denied an equaliser by a brilliant James Phillips’ stop while Munster had their chances to extend the margin but were delighted to land a win over the blue province.
Eyes turn immediately to the Under-21 Four Nations with Caren naming his squad soon after the interpros had finished. For all selected, it will be an incredibly busy week, bringing their respective tally of games to six in seven games while for the quartet of UCD men included, their tally ups to seven in eight days when their league game against Glenanne is included.
Full internationals James Lorimer, Kirk Shimmins, Nick Burns, Peter Brown and Matthew Bell are included while Harry Spain has been tentatively named in the selection but he did sustain an injury over the weekend that may see him ruled out. Owen Magee and Matthew Rollins are other injury worries and are not included.
Interpro winners Jamie Wright, Michael Robson, Ben McMillan, McKee, Neal Glassey, Ben Cosgrove and Matthew Allister make it nine from their side while Irish U-18s Peter McKibbin and Sean Murray up the Ulster quotient to 11, or 12 if Banbridge native and Leinster representative Brown is added.
Nick Burns captains the side and is the sole Munster man involved though his younger brother Alex has been added to the European training panel along with Richard Lynch. Of that list of seven players, Daragh Walsh is an eye-catching addition on that list. He is still eligible to play at Under-16 level in both schools and club hockey.
Speaking about the selection, Caren said: “The talent that has been on show this weekend confirms that Irish Hockey has a fantastic future ahead. There has been some great individual performances over the past three days and because of this I have also added a further seven athletes to the Under 21 training panel.
“One of these seven players [Matthew Allister] has shown some outstanding current form and has managed to play his way into the Four Nation’s squad. This is what the interprovincial tournament should be about, bringing the best out of players who are hungry for a chance to represent their country.
“Now our attention turns to getting the athletes to recover as quickly as possible to be able to produce at their full potential next week. We have a lot to cover in a short space of time but the group of players we have selected are more than capable of this.”
Irish U-21 squad for Four Nations Tournament, February 11-13, Newtonabbey: J Wright (Portadown), H Spain (Pembroke), K Shimmins (UCD), M Robson (Annadale), R Nair (UCD), S Murray (Lisnagarvey), B McMillan (Mossley), P McKibbin (Annadale), J McKee (Banbridge), J Lorimer (Lisnagarvey), M Ingram (Pembroke), N Glassey (Mossley), B Cosgrove (Grove Menzieshill), L Cole (Monkstown), N Burns (UCD), P Brown (UCD), M Bell (Banbridge), M Allister (Annadale)
Reserves: J Duncan (UCD), R Canning (UCD), S O’Connor (Glenanne)
Added to training panel for July: M Allister (Annadale), A Burns (Cork C of I), B Campbell (YMCA), R Lynch (Cork C of I), D Nolan (Monkstown), S O’Connor (Glenanne), D Walsh (TRR)
Friday: Leinster 3 (L Cole, S McKeever, R Canning) Ireland U-18 0; Ulster 4 (M Bell 2, M Allister, J Wright) Munster 2 (S Wolfe, N Burns)
Saturday: Ireland U-18s 3 (D Nelson, S Murray, K O’Hare) Munster 1 (N Burns); Leinster 0 Ulster 1 (O Magee)
Sunday: Ulster 5 (N Glassey, M Robson, J Cathcart, C Roberts, J McKee) Irish U-18s 0; Munster 2 (J Dale, S Miller) Leinster 1 (S McKeever)
Standings: 1. Ulster 6pts (+3) 2. Munster 3pts (-1) 3. Leinster 0pts (-2)
Tuesday, February 11: Ireland vs Scotland, 5pm; England vs Germany, 7pm
Wednesday, February 12: Germany vs Scotland, 5pm; Ireland vs England, 7pm
Thursday, February 13: England vs Scotland, 5pm; Ireland vs Germany, 7pm