Four sides battle it out to complete the Irish Hockey League finals weekend line-up with men’s Pool A the only group still up for grabs with Pembroke, Lisnagarvey, Three Rock and Cookstown locked in direct battle.
Pembroke are in pole position with four wins out of four to date but they have a big challenge on their hands when they meet Three Rock, a side that they will be looking to get one over on.It will be the fourth meeting of the season between the sides with Rovers landing two wins in the league – 5-4 and 4-1 – while they also prevailed in the Irish Senior Cup final on penalties. Mick O’Connor could return to the line-up having missed last week’s game against Cork Harlequins.
For Rovers, they need a two-goal win to guarantee progress and, after a few weeks injury, Ali Haughton could be back in the fold. After a frustrating day against Lisnagarvey a week ago, they will be aiming to hold their discipline having ended their previous game with eight players.
If Three Rock draw or pick up a losing bonus point, they can still go through but will be dependent on how things pan out on the Comber Road. There, a win for Garvey will see them through but Cookstown have no little motivation.
After two losses, the Co Tyrone side looked out of the loop but their strong win over Instonians puts them back in the mix. A win for them will put them ahead of Lisnagarvey and then they must hope for things to work in their favour elsewhere with a can of permutational-worms in the offing.
Garvey landed the Ulster Premier League in midweek with a comprehensive victory over Raphoe, continuing their brilliant run of goal-scoring form with a 7-0 win in Donegal, making it 40 goals with five games in their domestic league.
It all makes for a perfectly poised end of this IHL group where the other pools have been fairly cut and dried for the past few weeks.
In men’s Pool B, Monkstown have ceded home advantage against Banbridge in a mutually beneficial move as they seek to get pitch time at Havelock Park ahead of the finals weekend while Bann avoid an expensive away trip. Both are already through with a game to spare, making the three ties in the group dead rubbers bar final placement.Cork C of I host Annadale while UCD play Corinthian with the students aiming to finish a productive first IHL season with a third place finish. Annadale, meanwhile, earned a IHL wildcard date with Cork Harlequins courtesy of their 2-1 midweek win over Belfast Harlequins, a result that placed them fifth.
On the women’s side, the scenario is similar. All four semi-finalists are confirmed. How Railway Union and UCD in Pool A and Loreto take on Pegasus in Pool B in the phoney wars that could both be potential finals eight days later.
Expect any injury doubts to be rested while penalty corner variations will probably be kept to a minimum but it is difficult to see what a preferable semi-final would look like and, with concurrent match times, how that could be manufactured in any case.
The remaining four games are all about final group placement that could have a bearing on next season’s volume of home games but little else. Old Alex will use their game against Ards as a good tester of their capabilities ahead of a wildcard semi-final date against the Ulster Elks on April 12 in Milltown.
Catholic Institute and the Connacht runners-up, who will be decided this weekend, will compete in the other semi-final with the final on April 13.
Irish Hockey League
Men’s Pool A: Cork Harlequins vs Instonians, 1pm, Farmer’s Cross; Lisnagarvey vs Cookstown, 1pm, Comber Road; Pembroke vs Three Rock Rovers, 1pm, Serpentine Avenue
Pool B: Cork C of I vs Annadale, 1pm, Garryduff; Banbridge vs Monkstown, 1pm, Havelock Park; UCD vs Corinthian, 1pm, Belfield
Women’s Pool A: Catholic Institute vs Lurgan, 3pm, Rosbrien; Hermes vs Greenfields, 3pm, Booterstown; Railway Union vs UCD, 3pm, Park Avenue
Pool B: Ards vs Old Alex, 3pm, Ards LC; Cork Harlequins vs Ballymoney, 3pm, Farmer’s Cross; Loreto vs Pegasus, 3pm, Beaufort