Men’s Leinster Division Two
Pembroke II closed out Avoca’s title hopes last Saturday as Justin Sherriff’s early double propelled them to a 12th successive win, denying their closest rivals in the process. The player-coach scored twice in the first ten minutes while Simon McKeever extended the lead to 3-1 before Avoca got a goal back with five minutes to go – Dante Tait and Jonathan Elmes on the mark.
They did also force a couple of great saves from Hugh Lavery but there was no denying the Dublin 4 side, putting ten points between the clubs ahead of Sunday’s dead rubbers. It was a thoroughly deserved win for Pembroke who had the most consistent line-ups of the four second teams following a strong influx of players.
Arrivals like Andrew and Glen Shekleton, John Brennan, David Quinn, Jacob Offerman, Scott Sullivan and Sherriff’s return to coach and later playing after Christmas bolstered the panel but it looks a little while to blend with established figures like Scott Furlong, Patrick Good, David Molloy, Peter Priestly, Duncan McKeen, Ben Grogan and skipper Craig Wilson.
They landed just two wins from their first five outings to initially leave them in mid-table but soon put together a spectacular run of form that saw them pick off a 36 consecutive points before their run ended on Sunday in their last outing when the silverware was already in the bag, losing 4-2 against Monkstown II.
Furlong’s goals from corners and his general dynamism in midfield were a key factor in a well balanced side with a wealth of top tier experience to call upon. Of the young guns, George Dagg shone at left back in an exceptionally consistent season while Molloy scored goals at key times.
For Avoca, it means Mark Cullen’s young charges are destined for the promotion playoff game against Rathgar Chiefs as the division’s second placed finishers with the two games against Pembroke II proving pivotal in their final ranking.
They did bounce back with a 5-1 win over Dublin University on Sunday, coming from a goal down. Herbie Fowler-Hudson replied with his first senior goal for Avoca’s firsts when he calmly slipped home from a precision pass from Dante Tait. The second half saw Avoca’s high press push the students deeper into their own half but Aran Rooney’s well placed overheads were an important source of out letting to relieve the pressure.
The Blackrock side, though, hit a purple patch midway through the second half with quick goals from Andrew Ramsay, Kevin Mellott and a top quality shoulder-high deflection from the hard-running Elmes. Peter Haughton scrambled home the fifth late on.
At the far end of the table, Trinity and Weston’s fate was confirmed on Saturday as both were unable to win. The Lucan side fell 5-3 against Monkstown II while Trinity drew with Three Rock Rovers II 1-1. It meant Rovers and Clontarf were clear of the danger zone, leaving their Sunday tie as a dead rubber – the sides will meet again in the Railway Cup in a couple of weeks’ time.
Monkstown II closed out the season with a fifth win in six games with their 4-2 win over Pembroke II to end in fourth place, Geoff Cole netting five times over the weekend. Kilkenny, meanwhile, scored an incredible draw at Suttonians as they travelled with just nine players.
Tristan Lynas netted a hat trick in his first game for the first team this season while the cats netted three times in the final ten minutes of their season to nab a 5-5 result, Eamon Walshe scoring a breakaway from the halfway line at the death.
Following the first season in this guise, plenty of different inferences can be taken from the way the season has panned out. The mix of first and second teams certainly made for a far more competitive set of fixtures throughout the season in division two and for the old division three sides.
However, the cost of the restructure will see just four first teams eligible for promotion in the 2014/15 season – barring a switch to a full Irish Hockey League which could have effects as yet unknown.
Given that some of the reasons for switching to the current format was to aid the first teams to be more competitive and better suited for promotion, that it is now considerably harder to go up can be seen as a major flaw in the system.
The marked upsurge in form of the second teams since Christmas is another cause for concern in some respects. With division one teams working off panels of 16 of whom only nine are exclusively registered for first team hockey, there was always scope for those teams to bolster their panels when match times suited, a luxury the other clubs had no access to.
There are moves afoot to change this to more accurately reflect the way registration is managed but this will be of scant consolation for the relegated sides.
Similarly, the lack of a direct promotion place for Avoca and relegation for the last placed side in division one could lead to a dangerously closed club from the top tier. It is likely to be an issue discussed at the LHA forum on Thursday evening.
Men’s Leinster Division Two results
Saturday: Three Rock Rovers II 1 (L McSharry) Dublin University 1; Weston 3 (D Carey, K Bint, K Goodwin) Monkstown II 5 (G Cole 2, J Henry, Z Dutton, M Styles); Suttonians 5 (J Taylor 2, A Crawford, D Reamsbottom, J Ryan) Kilkenny 5 (T Lynas 3, E Walshe 2); Pembroke 3 (J Sherriff 2, S McKeever) Avoca 2 (J Elmes, D Tait); YMCA II 2 (D van der Spuy, G McCoy) Clontarf 3 (K Mullins 3)
Sunday: Monkstown II 4 (G Cole 3, K Kenning) Pembroke II 2 (D Quinn, A Shekleton); TRR II 4 (J Brennan 2, A White, F Morris) Clontarf 2 (K Mullins, T Cullen); Avoca 5 (H Fowler-Hudson, K Mellott, J Elmes, P Haughton, A Ramsay) Dublin University 1