With four of the top five meeting on Saturday, the men’s EYHL returns to the New Year with a bang for a fortnight’s burst of matches before the Irish national team departs for Spain for warm-weather training.
Leaders Banbridge face a tester at Grange Road against Three Rock Rovers in an early game, brought forward to 11.30am to allow players to travel to Drew Carlisle’s wedding.
It obviously means the Irish international is absent while Owen Magee could miss out too but Ross Beattie is back in the fold after injury issues in the first half of the season.
Bann have beaten Rovers twice already this term on home turf but found things tricky at Grange Road last season in a low-key 0-0 draw. Rovers are at full strength.
Cork C of I and Monkstown will be hoping for the Co Down side to drop points to aid their push for the title. Bann lead the way with 20 points, one ahead of Town with a game in hand, while C of I are a further three points back.
The sky blues travel south with former C of I men Karl and Jason Lynch now in their ranks. Both clubs had fruitful Christmas periods, landing silverware on St Stephen’s Day.
Town will hope Gareth Watkins’ injury sustained in the Neville Cup final does not rule him out. David Fitzgerald remains a while away from a return while David Cole also has been out injured.
C of I were bolstered just before Christmas by Stuart O’Grady’s return from Railway Union but saw Wesley Brownlow go the opposite direction up to Dublin to play for Pembroke.
Pembroke, themselves, will hope to close the gap on the top five when they go to Instonians. They have a doubt over Alan Sothern who missed the Neville Cup final with a shoulder injury; he has been their key man up front, scoring six of their 11 goals in the league.
The Dublin 4 side are the lowest scorers in the division along with Inst so this is likely to be tight with Pembroke relying on a tight defence with Mark Ingram backing up key men Harry Spain and Keith O’Hare.
Instonians are equally reliant on a key scoring route with William Robinson providing five of their 11 goals this campaign. A home tie such as this is vitally important if the Belfast side are to have any chance of escaping the drop.
Glenanne and Railway Union have a similarly fraught battle on the cards in Tallaght with the pair locked on six points. The latter won the return tie back in September but both sides were missing significant faces that time around like Shane O’Donoghue, Mark English and Fergal Keaveney.
Railway need to stem the heavy concessions that marked the first half of the campaign, letting in 37 times in nine games.
Lisnagarvey almost suffered a nasty sting in the tail against UCD on opening day, prevailing 3-2, and will need to be wary once again at Belfield against a gung-ho opposition.
With Jeremy Duncan spearheading things and an effective corner, the students have caused plenty of sides problems since their promotion. Garvey, meanwhile, had some sketchy weeks before Christmas but did close out the year with an impressive 4-2 win at Monkstown.
Andy Williamson showed excellent poaching instincts to be their top scorer while Timmy Cockram stepped back from the panel along with the departure of Mikey Watt.
In Leinster, Kilkenny have a double-weekend. On Saturday, they play the first of the Mills Cup quarter-finals with a trip to the NSC to play Fingal for the third time this season. Expect fireworks as their last meeting ended 4-4.
On Sunday, they play a back match in Division One, hosting Weston in a battle to try and pull away from the bottom rung of the table.
Men’s EY Hockey League (Saturday): Three Rock Rovers v Banbridge, 11.30am, Grange Road; Cork C of I v Monkstown, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Glenanne v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Glenanne Park; UCD v Lisnagarvey, 2.50pm, Belfield; Instonians v Pembroke, 3pm, Shaw’s Bridge
Saturday: Fingal v Kilkenny, NSC, 1.30pm
Tuesday: UCD v Glenanne, 7pm, Belfield
Leinster Division One (Sunday): Kilkenny v Weston, 3pm, Kilkenny College
Irish Hockey Trophy
Round 1 (Saturday): Antrim v South Antrim, 1pm, Antrim Forum; Queen’s University v Bandon, 1pm, Malone Road