The race for the men’s EY Hockey League Champions Trophy and relegation places hurtles to a conclusion with the concluding three rounds of the inaugural season playing out in the next eight days.
While Garvey, Monkstown and Banbridge looked assured in the end of season playoffs for the All-Ireland title, the fourth and final spot is set to be a huge battle.Three Rock are still clinging on to fourth place despite just two points in their last four games and they face a critical double weekend for their hopes. They welcome back Garry Ringwood and Ben Walker to their panel for a home game against Pembroke on Saturday before travelling north to play Bann on Sunday.
Finding goals has been their issue of late; they now have the least of any side in the division though their defence has been one of the most watertight. And they will look to find some of the form that saw them win 2-1 against Pembroke in the first half of the season.
The Dublin 4 side, though, are probably the mid-table side in the strongest form with 10 points from their last six games – not exceptional form but, amid rivals dropping points frequently, they have pulled well away from a potential relegation battle that loomed in early February.
Andrew Shekleton is away at his brother’s wedding while Patrick Good is out injured, trimming their options up front. Nonetheless, Jack Ryan and Eric Foy have stepped up while Alan Sothern remains one of the competition’s most dangerous marksmen, scoring six of his team’s last 11 goals.
Should Pembroke succeed there, they will be in a strong position to nail down a playoff place, especially with bottom side Annadale to play on Sunday before they host eighth place Cork C of I on the final day of the season.
For Rovers, the Sunday tie is against a Bann side for whom coach Mark Tumilty has hinted he will shuffle his deck to protect his hand for the end of season playoffs.
“We want the lads to be going into that play-off weekend fresh so we have to start thinking about that now,” said coach Mark Tumilty to the Banbridge Leader.
“We’ll have a different squad for the two matches this weekend. It gives some of the other lads a chance to come in and play and it lets us see what they can do.”
Bann’s first game of the weekend is against C of I and Tumilty may rest Matthew Bell and Eugene Magee who were with the Irish team this week for three games at Bisham Abbey. Those uncapped games against Great Britain all ended in defeat, a pair of 3-0s and a 5-1 in the final game on Thursday.
Glenanne and Railway’s respective playoff hopes intertwine on Sunday following Saturday games against Ulster opposition. The Glens have one win in their last five ties while Railway have two wins from their last six that has helped Pembroke get back into the playoff race.
Railway face an Annadale side whom they stunned with a late comeback in their first meeting of the season with two goals in the last four minutes. The Dubliners were seriously under-strength that day but will hope that, with a fuller quorum and home advantage, they can outdo a side in desperate need of points to escape the bottom rung of the table.The Glens have a much harder task on paper, heading north to Lisnagarvey who are seeking a 14th successive win of the campaign. Sam O’Connor has been a key man this term for the Glens and he linked up with Irish set-up over Easter – along with Luke Madeley and Keith O’Hare – as part of a training series.
At the bottom, Cookstown’s much improved form since February hit a serious road-block last week against Banbridge and they meet the top two back-to-back, Monkstown then Garvey, needing to get something from the ties.
C of I, likewise, must get something from a double weekend against playoff bound clubs – Bann on Saturday and Monkstown on Sunday.
Elsewhere, 12 more cup titles will be decided on the Leinster and national stage. The women’s Irish Hockey Trophy and Challenge titles will be played at Belfield while the 10 Leinster junior cups will be decided at Grange Road in a festival of hockey.
Men’s EY Hockey league
Saturday: Railway Union v Annadale, 2pm, Park Avenue; Cork C of I v Banbridge, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Lisnagarvey v Glenanne, 3pm, Hillsborough; Monkstown v Cookstown, 4pm, Rathdown; Three Rock Rovers v Pembroke, 4pm, Grange Road
Sunday: Banbridge v Three Rock Rovers, 2pm, Havelock Park; Glenanne v Railway Union, 2pm, Glenanne Park; Annadale v Pembroke, 2.30pm, Lough Moss; Cookstown v Lisnagarvey, 2.30pm, Steelweld Park; Cork C of I v Monkstown, 2.30pm, Garryduff
LHA finals (all at Grange Road)
Minor Cup final: St James’s Gate II vs Pembroke VI, 12pm, back pitch
Intermediate Cup final: Pembroke III vs Skerries, 1.30pm, front pitch
Junior Cup final: Suttonians vs Clontarf III, 1pm, back pitch
Railway Cup final: Railway Union II v Clontarf, 4.30pm, front pitch
Irish Hockey Trophy final: Avoca v Bandon, 3pm, Belfield
Irish Hockey Challenge final: Galway v Blackrock, 1pm, Belfield
LHA finals (all at Grange Road)
Division 5-6 Cup final: Avoca II vs Botanic, 11.30am, front pitch
Division 11-12 Cup final: Wicklow vs Muckross V, 2pm, back pitch
Division 9-10 Cup final: Monkstown III vs Our Lady’s IV, 11am, back pitch
Division 7-8 Cup final: Monkstown II vs UCD V, 12.30pm, front pitch
Division 3-4 Cup final: Suttonians vs Monkstown, 2.30pm, front pitch
LHA Trophy: Wexford v Kilkenny, 3pm, back pitch