Banbridge and Monkstown’s intertwined EY Hockey League history rolls as they meet for a fifth successive year in the playoff stages of the national competition on Saturday afternoon in the men’s EY Champions Trophy semi-finals.
After final defeats in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Bann turned the tide in last year’s semi-final in a shoot-out against Town and they go into this final four encounter with a big weight of momentum in their favour.
It follows their double-winning exploits this season already – combined with an impressive EHL run – which included a 3-1 ISC final win over Town along with a 5-1 success against their Dubliners in the league.
Mark Tumilty’s side will have to cope without their influential goalkeeper Gareth Lennox. He missed the EHL KO16 trip to Eindhoven as his three-year son was diagnosed with an E Coli infection that has required dialysis treatment in hospital.
"Gareth has been a tremendous last line of defence as we won the Irish Senior Cup and Irish Hockey League double, and we'll miss him not only for his goalkeeping skills but also the way in which he drives players on," said Tumilty to the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's a pity he is missing the business end of the season but his son is the priority and we accept that and hope that young James will make a full recovery.”It means,
It means, as in Eindhoven, 17-year-old Luke Roleston will stand in. Jamie Wright is also a concern but Hugh McShane and Jake Rowe could return to the side. They face a Monkstown side who are boosted by Lee Cole and Gavin Groves passing fitness tests but Gareth Watkins and Richard Sykes are injured.
Coach Michael Styles says it is imperative that his side does not give Bann a chance to feed on unforced errors, something that has cost them dear in previous meetings this season.
“Banbridge have a unique ability to punish you for any mistake you make; looking back on the goals they have scored against us over the three games, it is our mistakes which have set up a goal scoring opportunity for them and, credit to them, they take them when they arrive.
”They outlet very well and play very good, two-touch hockey with have goalscorers all over their midfield and front line. This was shown in the EHL where they were the better team in the KO16 tie.”
Monkstown have had a patchy campaign but finished strong to overhaul Cork C of I with five wins out of their last six league games. Davy Carson has been the star man running up at least 20 goals and he will be one to watch in this semi-final.
“We need to defend very well; that’s our foundation,” Styles adds. “From there I feel we have enough talent and firepower to cause Banbridge a lot of problems.
“There have been times where we have had the upper hand we just need to turn those patches into goals. Simply I feel if we perform to the best of our ability all over the pitch there is no reason why we can't win the game. We have had an up and down season but I feel we are peaking at the perfect time.”
The second semi-final pits hosts Three Rock Rovers against reigning champions Lisnagarvey. The Rathfarnham club look set to be without Peter Blakeney who has a niggle in his knee which kept him out of last week’s win over Instonians but David Kane could return to the defensive line.
They won their most recent tie at the same venue with an impressive 3-1 result over Erroll Lutton’s side amid a run of 11 successive league victories. In that tie, the likes of Ravin Nair and Luke Madeley were very impressive in defending their circle while Jamie Carr has been in excellent form in the last line throughout the campaign.
For many of Niall Denham’s squad, it is a first national semi-final as they reach this stage for the first time since 2014 with the squad undergoing an overhaul since then.
Garvey rested Jonathan Bell, Paul Gleghrone, Sean Murray, Matthew Nelson and Ryan Getty last week for their league game against Monkstown but all trained this week to make themselves available for the squad.
For coach Erroll Lutton, he says his side has not had the consistency of last season and knows they are in for a big battle on Saturday.
“Three Rock Rovers results against the top four teams speak for themselves which is why they went close to winning the IHL. Both Lisnagarvey and Three Rock Rovers have a youthful look about them and the matches between us this season have been close and competitive.
“In Mitch Darling and Jody Hosking, they have two vastly experienced players but Under-21 players Luke Madeley in defence and at short corners and Jamie Carr have been two key players for them along with many others.
“We haven't had the consistency in the league we world like but the playoffs allow the opportunity to put that right. There's very little between all the teams this weekend and they all have different styles of play to deal with.
“Ultimately, to be successful, there is no doubt that the ability to negate the strengths of the opposition along with playing your best hockey over two days is what it'll take to win this weekend.”
On Sunday, the final place in next season’s EYHL will be up for grabs as UCD and Cookstown go toe-to-toe in the promotion-relegation playoff.
The Co Tyrone side impressed in their win at the same venue last Saturday when they outplayed Corinthian but came a cropper against provincial rivals Annadale in the final.
UCD, for their part, lost their last four league games, conceding 22 times as they struggled with injuries. It is a repeat of last year’s playoff between the two sides which UCD won.
Men’s fixtures (all at Grange Road)
EY Champions Trophy
Semi-finals (Saturday): Banbridge v Monkstown, 3pm; Three Rock Rovers v Lisnagarvey, 5pm
Final (Sunday): 5pm
EY Hockey League promotion/relegation playoff (Sunday): UCD v Cookstown, 12pm, front pitch