It is make or break time on all fronts in the men’s EY Hockey League with this weekend and next going a long way to defining the outlook for the remainder of the season for many teams.
Nowhere is this more critical than at the bottom. Cookstown and Annadale have shown serious signs of life in recent weeks, both recording wins that have given them a boost in terms of avoiding relegation.This week, though, is the critical one for the two Ulster clubs as they meet twice in seven days in what will likely determine their season, tomorrow at Steelweld Park and then again on February 27 at Lough Moss.
Dale augmented their 3-2 win over Three Rock with a last ditch equaliser against Cork C of I with James Cox scoring in successive games from corners. Cookstown, meanwhile, beat Glenanne for the second time this season and will need to start spreading their next wider in terms of who they win points off.
Importantly, Greg Allen – usually their talisman up front – got his first goal of the season against the Glens and if he can start firing like he has in previous years, it will give them an important attacking fulcrum. Matthew Allister is back for Dale after playing with Queen’s in the Euro indoors.
At the top, the current leading quartet meet each other. Lisnagarvey are all but home and hosed in terms of claiming a ticket to the EY Champions Trophy places. They travel to play fourth placed Three Rock Rovers at Grange Road looking to repeat the 4-0 result at Comber Road before Christmas.
That was one of just two games in Rovers’ season that has not been decided by either a single goal or a draw, showing how many tight battles they have been involved in. They hope to bring back a couple of players who missed the midweek Mills cup defeat to Pembroke.
Garvey have conceded just three times in their last five outings with John Tormey backing up an immaculate defensive line-up to go with an all-star forward line-up.
Second placed Monkstown and third placed Banbridge meet at Havelock Park in the late game. Bann coach Mark Tumilty says that the tie is something of a “free shot”, citing the last six games as the key ones in the race for the playoff places, adding to the Banbridge Leader:
“It’s what we do in the last six games that is the real challenge. We have to finish in the top three and those are the games we have to win in order to do that.
“There’s no team we can’t compete against but we need to get a break and we need to be more clinical. Why not do it against Monkstown on Saturday?”
He is hoping his side’s penalty corner routine can find some fluidity in the wake of a blank against Garvey.
Glenanne will hope that they can avail of dropped points directly above them to get back into the top four when they host Pembroke in Tallaght. The Dublin 4 side are hoping they can build a little bit of momentum after their Mills Cup semi-final win over Rovers and the recent 3-2 success against Cookstown.
Justin Sherriff’s assessment is: “Hopefully we can kick on from here. Luck hasn’t fallen our way yet in the EYHL and the Glenanne game will be tough across all areas.
“They have worked very hard to get themselves were they are in league, through resilience and passion to win. It is really important we get three points against them.”
Cork C of I host Railway Union at Garryduff with both, perhaps, keeping an anxious look over their shoulder at Annadale and Cookstown. Neither have won in 2016 yet and need a three-pointer to ease any impending worries.
Men’s EY Hockey League (all Saturday): Banbridge v Monkstown, 5pm, Havelock Park; Cookstown v Annadale, 2.30pm, Steelweld Park; Cork C of I v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Glenanne v Pembroke Wanderers, 2.30pm, Glenanne Park; Three Rock Rovers v Lisnagarvey, 3pm, Grange Road.