The climax of the men’s Irish Hockey League season is ready to roll at Grange Road with Banbridge, Monkstown, Three Rock Rovers and Pembroke all fighting out it out for the national title and a place in Europe.For Co Down side Banbridge, they lie just two wins away from a perfect season having already won the Irish Senior Cup for the first time in 29 years.
In addition, the Ulster Premier League, Anderson Cup and Kirk Cup are also residing in Havelock Park for the summer and they will be hoping to continue their immaculate unbeaten form through to Sunday.
They have done so despite the long-term absence of Irish internationals Philip Brown but they have an array of attacking options with Eugene Magee the pivot around which everything works.
Owen Magee was superb on finals weekend on the attack while Irish caps Matthew Bell, Gareth Lennox and Drew Carlisle hold the fort to strong effect.
The tie could also be experienced striker Dane Ward’s last game for the club as he moves to London for work reasons in the wake of the tie.
Standing in their way is a Pembroke side keen for vengeance following their 4-0 loss to Bann in the Irish Senior Cup semi-final a couple of weeks ago.
They will hope that goalkeeper Mark Ingram will be fit and back in the mix after being stretchered off the last time the two clubs met with a head injury.
The coaching team of David Passmore and Paddy Conlon will have picked through that performance in a bid to turn things around but will certainly have the underdog status.The other semi-final pits reigning champions Monkstown against Three Rock Rovers in a repeat of last year’s battle at the same stage.
Town shaded that one in extra time and will be bouyed by the return of Swiss star Fabian Wullschleger – who lined out in their final group game against Annadale – after international duty at the indoor World Cup and the World League.
The cosmpolitan reigning champions – who also have a French and German player in their ranks – have had the edge over Rovers in the Leinster league this season, winning twice.
Richard Sykes’ drag-flicks will be a key threat as will the strike-power of Gareth Watkins, Davy Carson and Peter Caruth is all are in tandem, quite a handful for a young Rovers’ defence.
Three Rock’s heavy injury list looks to have abated in recent weeks, though, meaning Joe Brennan has a full deck to pick from with the player-coach among those to have missed quite a bit of hockey during the season.
Peter Blakeney’s aggression and Ali Haughton’s pace down the flanks will be key elements for them while it could be a formative date for their large portion of Under-21 players. That second semi-final takes place at 5pm in Grange Road with the final a day later at 4pm on Sunday.
The final berth in the 2015/16 expanded Irish Hockey League, meanwhile, will be determined over the weekend with Railway Union, Instonians and UCC battling it out for that one-spot in a round-robin tournament that gets underway on Friday evening.
Men’s Irish Hockey League (all at Grange Road)
Semi-finals (Saturday): Banbridge vs Pembroke, 3pm; Monkstown vs Three Rock Rovers, 5pm
Final (Sunday): 4pm
Friday: Railway Union vs Instonians, 7.30pm
Saturday: Instonians vs UCC, 1.15pm
Sunday: UCC vs Railway Union, 1pm