Both Corinthian coach Trevor Dagg and Annadale’s player-coach Peter Caruth have both expressed their frustration at the format of the EY provincial playoff process that leads to a potential place in the national league.
For Dagg, his side will play Cookstown early on Saturday morning in their semi-final with a place in the final effectively earning two bites of the cherry at promotion.
Only the winner of this weekend’s tie goes straight into the EYHL, replacing Instonians, with the losing finalist going on to play either Railway Union or UCD in a promotion-relegation match a week later.
Corinthian – the Leinster champions – were paired with the Ulster Premier winners via an open draw and Dagg feels that the two strongest sides on paper will meet in one semi-final with one having those two shots at going up and the other bounced out straight away.
“That’s the reason it is so costly,” he said. “We’ve gone through another eight-month slog in Leinster to win the title so it will be tough to do that again and I’m sure Cookstown are thinking the same. The semis last year were seeded and they should have done that again to avoid exactly what’s happened. I don’t think it was thought through to be honest.”
“It asks the question of whether an IHL2, taking the bottom two of the IHL1 and six from the other provinces would be a better option. It would make things much cleaner for promotion and relegation. It would close the gap between the province and the IHL and, looking at it another way, it not let the gap get any wider which is the way it’s going at the moment.”
“Anyway we can only control what we do and our focus is Saturday. Cookstown after their amazing season will probably be favourites and you’d expect a high scoring game so we’re really looking forward to it.”
He says Cookstown are a tough prospect, especially having seen they have scored over 100 goals in their league campaign. The Dublin reds are at full strength with Davy Howard recovering from a shoulder injury to fire their corners.
Cookstown’s Keith Black, meanwhile, says: “Make no mistake about it – this is going to be as tough a weekend as we will have had all season.
“Any one of the four teams competing would be a worthy inclusion to the EYHL and hopefully that shows the strength in Irish hockey at the moment, particularly outside the top ten.
“It’s a few years since we last played Corinthian, but they are obviously an excellent team who will bring a lot of physicality to the game. The first thing we will have to do is to stand up to that challenge if we are to progress and even try to get a bit of an advantage there.
“They have a good short corner routine by all accounts.
“Obviously you don’t make it into a Irish Senior Cup semi-final with only that. They have big game players in guys like David Howard and Jonny Bruton who will have a good bit of pace and provide fire-power in their front line.
“We are committed to playing the game our way and have been training really hard in preparation for the weekend. Competition for places in the squad will be fierce as everyone is fit, well rested and raring to go.”
Annadale player-coach Caruth, meanwhile, insists there needs to be a change in the format of the play-off mechanism that clubs face in their bid to qualify for the EY league.
Speaking on the eve of the final stage of the process, the Irish Olympian believes four games in two days in the first phase is too much to expect.
“I think the last weekend of qualifying, playing four games in two days, was very tough physically on the whole squad.” Caruth claimed. “The system needs to be re-thought as it is a recipe for injuries and massive overplaying – you just cant prepare physically for it.”
At least Caruth’s team have probably the easier of the two semi-finals on Saturday as they face Munster minnows Bandon.
“Bandon won their league – something we didn’t do but our squad has gelled very well and the team spirit is high now we need to perform.” he added. “We have huge amounts of young talent with a great mix of experience there and we know teams are looking at us.
“The IHL is a goal the squad has had all season and something all the boys want to prove we are good enough for. It looks like we’re doing something right if all the top IHL teams like to poach from you during the season.”
All the games take place at Grange Road with Saturday’s semi-finals followed by Sunday’s final at 12pm.
EY Provincial Finals (all at Grange Road)
Semi-finals (Saturday): Corinthian v Cookstown, 10.30am; Annadale v Bandon, 12.30pm
Final (Sunday): 12pm