The men’s EY Hockey League faces another couple of major twists and turns in the coming week with a series of key ties between the five sides still in the running for the title.
Banbridge remain the team to beat, top on goal difference with a game in hand, but their credentials will be put to a serious test when they travel to Monkstown on Saturday for an early 11.30am tie at the Merrion Fleet Arena.
It is part of a double-header for both clubs with Irish Senior Cup dates on Sunday to also look forward to. David Cole has come back into the Town side in recent weeks to bolster their defence for what is an important game for the southside club
For Bann, Eugene Magee’s switch to the forward line has been a big hit, as has Jamie Wright moving into midfield. Drew Carlisle is back in the mix following his honeymoon.
They have dropped seven points off the lead having lost their last two league games along with a couple of postponements, leaving them without an EYHL win since December 10.
Three Rock Rovers, meanwhile, welcome Lisnagarvey as they look to extend an unbeaten league run that dates back to the opening day of the campaign.
Rovers have handed the likes of Alex Flynn and Alex O’Regan increased game time in the last few weeks and are looking to continue their run of three wins in the EYHL since Christmas.
Comeback kings Garvey, meanwhile, escaped with a last minute 1-1 draw at home when the sides met in the first half of the season and produced a memorable fightback last week to defeat Pembroke 5-4 having trailed 4-2.
Timmy Cockram has made a strong impact since returning from a break, scoring a couple of times to add a lethal edge to their attack in which Matthew Nelson and Andy Williamson have been the fulcrum.
Cork C of I will look to take advantage of dropped points around them when they host Railway Union at Garryduff with Stuart O’Grady potentially facing the side for whom he lined out for a couple of months while working in Dublin. Next week, C of I travel to Garvey while Three Rock host Monkstown.
At the bottom, Instonians are in last chance saloon when it comes to closing the gap to the sides above them and will need all three points from their date against UCD.
Inst have only been swept away by Banbridge this season with all their other ties close enough but they need to find a way to win tight games if they are to reduce the five-point gap and haul their way out of trouble.
Last weekend’s 4-4 draw with Monkstown in the cup – before losing on strokes – showed the danger they can cause with experienced campaigners like Chris Kirk and Mark Irwin in the fray.
UCD, meanwhile, are on a six-game losing streak that has seen their productive start stymied and put them back in reach of Railway in the relegation playoff. Three points is vitally needed to arrest their slump.
Pembroke, reasonably secure in mid-table, face Glenanne at Serpentine Avenue with the Tallaght side needing points to put them in more secure shape in terms of relegation issues.
Sunday’s Senior Cup semi-finals sees the champions of the last two years – Bann and Town – as the clear favourites to set up a showdown for the trophy.
For the Co Down side, they host Leinster league leaders Corinthian. For the Whitechurch club, coach Trevor Dagg said it is the kind of game that his charges are desperately keen to play on a more regular basis and they will give it their all against the fancied hosts.
In Jonny Bruton, Davy Howard and Conor Motyer, they have weapons that can do some damage against their illustrious opponents but will be serious underdogs. They have not played in the final since 1901
UCD, meanwhile, have never been in a Senior Cup final and will aim to upset Monkstown at Belfield. Town won their league meeting 3-1 in November at the same venue and Michael Styles will be looking for a repeat performance.
Men’s EY Hockey League (Saturday): Monkstown v Banbridge, 11.30am, Merrion Fleet Arena; Cork C of I v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Instonians v UCD, 3pm, Shawsbridge; Three Rock Rovers v Lisnagarvey, 3pm, Grange Road; Pembroke v Glenanne, 4pm, Serpentine Avenue
Irish Senior Cup (Sunday): Banbridge v Corinthian, 2pm, Havelock Park; UCD v Monkstown, 3.30pm, Belfield
Irish Hockey Trophy (Saturday): North Down v Ashton, 2.30pm, Comber LC