Despite being reigning champions, Corinthian coach Trevor Dagg is not naïve enough to think of his reds’ team as anything other than underdogs when they meet Pembroke in the Mills Cup final at Grange Road on St Patrick’s Day (12.15pm).
Under his tenure, the Whitechurch club have pulled up trees in many respects following a change in approach that looks set to yield long-term dividends.The club were sporadically national challengers in the past decade when they would regularly bring in players from the southern hemisphere, memorably winning this cup in 2009 and reaching the Irish Hockey League final in 2010.
Long-term, though, their current approach looks a far more sustainable one with the focus on developing young players from within; the likes of Stephen Reid, Ian Stewart, David Howard, Neil Pelow and David Winn are part of this vanguard.
It led to last year’s success in the Mills Cup, stunning Glenanne in the final, and they have taken a big step to earning a place in the new national division, the EYHL, by winning Leinster’s Division One last week.
But Pembroke will be a different animal to the standard of side the reds have been meeting week in, week out with Irish caps Mark Ingram, Harry Spain, Alan Sothern, Kirk Shimmins, Jason Lynch, Nick Burns and Ronan Flannery among their number.
But Dagg is relishing the challenge, saying “these are the days you train and prepare for”.
“Even though we are defending champions, we go into the Mills Cup as underdogs. Pembroke are a bigger club with significant resources, they’re playing in the EYHL and have a number of current and past internationals in their team so that’s what makes them firm favourites. Justin Sherriff will obviously be key as the new head coach and certainly if he plays adds great skill and experience.”
His assistant, Gordon Elliott, meanwhile knows Pembroke inside out, especially after many years playing in the same club and international team as Justin Sherriff who took on the Dublin 4 side’s coaching reins in January.
For his part, looking at the final, Sherriff was full of praise for his opponent.
“They are having an excellent season and have qualified for the EYIHL playoffs where they are the favourites to qualify. They have a strong short corner team both attacking and defending and we know all over the pitch their effort will be 100%.
He is hoping his side can continue their good form that has yielded an upsurge since Christmas though he was disappointed his side fell asleep for a short while against Lisnagarvey last Saturday.
“We were missing four players from our squad against Garvey but we managed to play very well except for a two-minute period when we conceded two goals. Our Captain, [Ronan] Flannery led by example and drove the Team forward at every opportunity.
“We lost 3-2 but the players showed great fighting spirit and a lot of skill against the form team in the EYHL.”
Three players are back in the Pembroke squad but Karl Lynch will miss out with a hamstring issue.
“We will need to play the game at a high tempo and ensure we continue to work through our processes,” he concluded.
Mills Cup final (St Patrick’s Day, Grange Road): Corinthian v Pembroke, 12.15pm