Lisnagarvey and Cork C of I battle it out for the final place in the men’s Irish Senior Cup semi-finals on Saturday to kick-start the second phase of the season.
It pits the reigning Ulster and Munster champions against each other but Garvey go into the tie as clear favourites, especially in the wake of a mammoth 10-1 win over Mossley in the Ulster Premier league in midweek.Garvey have under-achieved of late in the Senior Cup and – despite being the competition’s most successful side with 24 wins in world hockey’s oldest cup competition – they have not been in a final since 2006 and must got back another year to their most recent success.
Only a couple of players remain in the mix with Timmy Cockram and Stevie Arbuthnot among a small list of survivors from that vintage but their new look side is a major contender this year.
For C of I, their wait is even longer, harking back to 1999 when they beat Three Rock Rovers 4-3 in the decider. Player-coach David Hobbs was a fledgling member of that panel while John Jermyn was yet to break into the side and they still look to that duo for much of their momentum from midfield and at penalty corners.
With six wins from six in their domestic league, C of I continue to be the leading light in Munster but three losses in succession in the Irish Hockey League are more revealing of their travails of late on the national stage. Whoever wins will join Pembroke, Railway Union and Banbridge in the finals weekend in late March.
Elsewhere, the race for places in the Irish Hockey League returns in earnest this weekend with the Leinster league returning.
The big match sees Three Rock Rovers hosting Pembroke as third plays second as part of a current top four who probably needing four to five wins from eight games to absolutely make sure of they stay in that group and secure an IHL ticket based on previous years estimates.
Pembroke will be without Austrian international Mathias Podpera who returns to his homeland to join their World League round two preparations.
They have a direct replacement in the form of ex-international and former Pembroke captain Adam Pritchard who returned after a year out just before Christmas. Nick Burns, though, is completing his suspension.
With Mark Ingram potentially missing a few games through Irish commitments in the coming months, Charlie Henderson has been added to their registrations as goalkeeping cover for Ingram and Hugh Lavery.For Three Rock, Stephen West returned to action just before Christmas from a shoulder injury while they missed Jody Hosking in the lead-up to the break in midfield. They will also hope Alan White has used the time to heal and be back available after injury for what is a key game for both sides.
Leaders Monkstown head the pack by a point and will expect to remain that way on Saturday evening when they play Avoca in the borough derby at Newpark. Swiss international Fabian Wullschleger, though, has returned to his homeland for work reasons.
The sky-blues could also be the most affected by the unavailability of the Irish squad from January 20 to February 2 as they depart for South Africa for a training camp with Davy Carson, Peter Caruth, Stephen Cole and David Fitzgerald among potential absentees.
That panel is set to be named in the coming week following an Irish training session on Sunday. Avoca are not likely to have those problems and will see this tie as a shot to nothing, especially in the wake of their first win in almost a decade in division one.
YMCA’s pre-Christmas form, beating Railway and Three Rock, has put them right back into the frame for an IHL place, especially with a game in hand.
It has owed a lot to their imports with South African Jason Klinkradt overseeing a much more competitive showing. It has released Jamie Tobin to wreak havoc up top with nine goals to his name and their panel will grow with Stephen Walker and Phil Powderly back from their travels.
On the flip side, David Robinson’s return to Ireland was short-lived as he moved to Hong Kong for work reasons.
Of the overseas contingent, Jaco Fourie gives them a huge engine in midfield and no little skill in midfield – along with seven goals – while Australians Thom Ritchie and Ed Lawlor along with German Korbi Griessel have bolstered them significantly.
Jacques Odendaal departs after this weekend’s game against Rathgar but Dirk van der Spuy returns for a second spell with YM.
Rathgar are a douty opposition this season, keeping things tight for the most part but have lost six games out of 10 this season – including the last three games – by a single goal.
Shane Gould is set to embark on his travels later this month while they are keen to address their goalscoring issues – they are the league’s lowest scorers – in order to turn tight matches into points.
At Glenanne Park, the Tallaght side face bogey opponent Railway Union who trounced them in the league in autumn before knocking them out of the Irish Senior Cup in a much tighter tie.
The Glens, who won the Neville Cup over Christmas, have Rowland Rixon-Fuller and Gary Shaw on the comeback trail while goalkeeper Lukasz Domachowski could be availabile sooner rather than later after he wasn’t included in the Polish side to travel to Malaysia for a pre-World League trip.Railway have suffered a couple of nasty blows over the break with Craig Ellis rupturing his ACL in his knee while playing five-a-side football which will likely keep him out for over a year.
Simon Thornton takes the number one smock full-time. Eoin MacArthur, meanwhile, fell victim for concussion for the fourth time in four years in training during the week and is out for at least two weeks, raising the importance of Miguel Villar to the side.
Donal O’Mearain returns to the panel while Karl Chapple could play a part in the later phases of the league once he comes back from Australia. Rob Abbott and Mark English are their go-to men if they are to maintain their IHL push.
Corinthian’s bid to do likewise starts with a game against UCD at Belfield. They had a string of absentees for the Neville Cup final but top scorer Ian Stewart should return while Trevor Dagg will hope Davy Howard is also back sooner rather than later to give extra defensive cover and a drag-flick option.
UCD, for the most part, are as they were before Christmas with Kirk Shimmins, Ben Dobson and nine-goal Shane Madeley the key players if they are to move away from the bottom of the table.
On Sunday, the Leinster indoor league comes to a conclusion with Railway Union waiting in the final for either Three Rock Rovers for Avoca. Whomever they meet, they are likely to be clear favourites for the title having defeated Rovers, who finished second in the preliminary group, 11-2.
Just two fixtures start the year in division two with second place face fourth with Monkstown II meeting Clontarf while Railway Union II host Kilkenny at Park Avenue.
Irish Senior Cup, second round: Lisnagarvey v Cork C of I, 2.45pm, Comber Road
Leinster Division One: Glenanne v Railway Union, 12.30pm, Glenanne Park; UCD v Corinthian, 1pm, Belfield; Rathgar v YMCA, 2.15pm, High School; Three Rock Rovers v Pembroke, 3pm, Grange Road; Avoca v Monkstown, 4.15pm, Newpark
Division Two: Monkstown v Clontarf, 2.30pm, Rathdown; Railway Union II v Kilkenny, 3.45pm, Park Avenue
Leinster indoor league (all at St Columba’s College)
5.30pm: TRR v Avoca (semi-final)
6.30pm: Wicklow v Clontarf (placement game)
7.30pm: Railway Union vs semi-final winner