At least one of Banbridge and Lisnagarvey’s perfect records will fall in round three of the Irish Hockey League on what looks to be a pivotal weekend in the marquee competition.
Traditionally the club tie that draws the biggest crowds in the sport, the pair will play the late game at Havelock Park on Saturday evening with the winner set to have the box seat in terms of progression to the playoff stages.
Bann would appear to be in the box seat having netted a remarkable 96 goals already this season – 40 of them from Stephen Dowds – in an unbeaten 16-game run in all competitions.That includes a thrilling 4-3 win over Garvey in the Ulster Premier division. With five players back in the fold from Ireland’s midweek series against France – Dowds, Drew Carlisle, Peter Brown, Matthew Bell and Bruce McCandless – it will be some task for Garvey to stop them.
To that end, Sean Murray has been playing with a hand injury in recent times but they have plenty of quality in the form of Jonathan Bell and Jason Lynch.
Whichever side falters is likely to fall behind Three Rock Rovers, the third side with a perfect record in the six-team pool, as they are heavy favourites to beat UCD who are all but out of the semi-final running.
It has been a rough second season for the Belfielders following a huge turnover of players in the summer while Jeremy Duncan’s ongoing injury problems have left a lot of the work-rate on the shoulders of Kirk Shimmins.
Rovers did fall 3-2 to YMCA in the Mills Cup on Tuesday evening, ending their defence of that title, but welcome back Irish internationals Mitch Darling and Jonny Bruton after their sojourn to France.
Railway Union and Cork C of I will need to get a big win – along with two more victories – to have any chance of pushing for a semi-final spot. For Railway, they have had to chop and change in midfield with Eoin MacArthur’s nursing job and Miguel Villar’s injuries taking away consistency of line-up.
In Pool A, reigning champions Monkstown host Cookstown while Pembroke meet UCC as they attempt to overhaul surprise leaders Annadale.
Pembroke scraped to a narrow midweek Leinster league victory against basement side Avoca, coming from 2-1 at half-time to win 3-2 but will be buoyed by the return of goalkeeper Mark Ingram following his Irish debut.
After an impressive road trip to Cookstown, Pembroke will fancy their chances of making it two wins from two, keeping them on track for their refixed date with Monkstown.
The sky-blues, for their part, face a tricky tie against Cookstown at Rathdown.
Annadale have enjoyed a much improved season this year compared to last with Davy Smyth’s return to first team action a big boost along with a couple of other experienced heads to guide a young panel.
Inst are their opponents and while they sit second in the Ulster Premier, they are smarting after heavy 5-0 defeats to Banbridge and Monkstown in recent times.
In the Leinster league, meanwhile, Avoca play again on Saturday against Corinthian in the one tie on the agenda. Andrew Ramsay netted his seventh goal of the season in their game with Pembroke and is their key man up front if they play their counter-attack game.
For Corinthian, Ian Stewart has scored one more than him. They prepared for the tie with a midweek Neville Cup win over Clontarf, 3-1.
There’s a full schedule in division two with Railway Union II looking to get back on track under the Park Avenue Friday night lights against Pembroke II.
Fixtures (Saturday unless stated)
Men’s Irish Hockey League
Pool A: Monkstown v Cookstown, 2pm, Rathdown; Pembroke v UCC, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue; Instonians v Annadale, 2.45pm
Pool B: Cork C of I v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Three Rock Rovers v UCD, 3.15pm, Grange Road; Banbridge v Lisnagarvey, 5pm, Havelock Park
Leinster Division One: Corinthian v Avoca, 2.30pm, Whitechurch Park
Friday: Railway Union II vs Pembroke II, 8.40pm, Park Avenue
Saturday: Three Rock Rovers II vs YMCA II, 1pm, Grange Road; Fingal vs Kilkenny, 12pm, ALSAA; Monkstown II v Corinthian II, 4pm, Rathdown