The men’s EY Hockey League provincial playoff knock-out finals promise to offer a series of high octane battles in pursuit of a coveted place in the national EY Hockey League.
Instonians, Bandon, Clontarf and UCD will play in Saturday’s knock-out semi-finals, bidding for a place in Sunday’s final at Grange Road. The winner of that final will earn automatic promotion to the national league in place of Annadale while the runner-up will face Cookstown a week later at Havelock Park in the promotion/relegation playoff game.
Instonians take on Bandon in the first knock-out fixture with the possibility the former could end the season with four trophies. Inst captain Andrew Corry has already raised the Kirk Cup thanks to an 8-2 win against Mossley in that final while they swept to the Ulster Premier League with six points in hand over Kilkeel.
With the Anderson Cup also on the agenda and this playoff series, they are bidding for the perfect season and a return to the national stage. James Corry’s return after a year with the Bath Buccaneers has been a boost for the side while their forward line of Stephen Kelso, Alan Patterson and James Dowling is multi-faceted. Ex-international Mark Irwin’s recent return is another strong addition.
William Robinson, meanwhile, fires the corner bullets with four to his name in their round-robin success, beating Raphoe (5-0), UCD (2-1) and drawing with UCC (1-1).
For Bandon, they are bidding to shake off the title of nearly men. The list of runners-up medals is becoming a bit too long for them to handle. In the past few weeks, they ended up runners-up in the Munster league after two narrow losses to UCC before finishing on the wrong end of a penalty shoot-out against Kilkenny in the Irish Hockey Trophy final.
That was their third successive loss in that national competition but they bounced back to beat Belfast Harlequins 2-0 and earned a vital draw with Clontarf in the round-robin. It meant that, in spite of a 3-2 loss to Corinthian, they squeaked into the knock-out stages.
Former international Clinton Sweetnam is a key man at the base of the defence while goalkeepers Ian Hosford and Conor Robinson are both top quality. Under Denis Pritchard, they have developed some great young players who have made waves with the Irish underage teams with Sean Nyhan, Matthew Jennings, Calum Crowley and Colin Kingston among their emerging stars.
The west Cork side would dearly love to break down the fancied Instonians and reach Sunday’s final
The second semi-final is the all-Leinster affair between Clontarf and UCD. For the Bulls, Gareth Borland’s side have been one of the surprise packages of the season having only earned their place in Leinster’s top tier a year ago in the league realignment brought on by the introduction of the EYHL.
But they showed few nerves, finishing third in their province’s first phase of the season before ending third again in Leinster Division 1A to earn their playoff shot, winning the Railway Cup for good measure.
Last weekend, they began with a pair of close-fought 1-1 draws against Bandon and Corinthian before, crucially, defeating Belfast Harlequins 3-1. The side draw on the experience of player-coach Borland along with Tom Noonan while goalkeeper Stephen Cairns has been an exceptional servant to the club.
Key for the club has been the youth work they have done, in tandem with Mount Temple, that has seen a glut of strong young players come. Of them, youth international Kevin Mullins has broken club goalscoring records in recent years while his younger brother John and David Power are other up and comers.
It will be their fourth meeting of the season with UCD with the Bulls winning one while the other two ties ended in scoreless draws.
The students have been on an upward curve since the turn of the year. They laboured to fourth in the first phase of their season before ending second in Leinster Division 1A to reach the provincial playoffs.
Wins over UCC (1-0) and Raphoe (7-2), along with close-run defeat to Instonians showed how competitive they can be. The likes of Jazze Henry and David Nolan have played at the top level before with Monkstown’s all-conquering side in recent years while captain Jeremy Duncan is a very strong force around midfield.
Coupled with sharp performers like Shane Madeley, Brian O’Malley and Ben McCrea – all of whom have national league experience – as well as the innovative skills of Andrew Ramsay, they will hope they can continue their charge under the coaching of Elun Hack.
It makes for a lively weekend of action with Sunday’s final guaranteed to be between two ambitious sides, eager to make their mark on the national stage.
Men’s EY Hockey League Provincial Playoffs – Knock-out finals
Saturday: Instonians v Bandon, 3pm; Clontarf v UCD, 5pm
Sunday: Final – 3.30pm