A year after a big exodus, UCC have belatedly found a batch of 13 newcomers that have the potential to suggest last season’s sixth – and last – place finish last term in Munster men’s Division One was a blip.
As such, despite last season’s performance, they look like they could be the main contenders to challenge reigning champions Bandon for the title having picked up players from many of their potential rivals.
Indeed, Colin Kingston, Conor Robinson and Callum Crowley are two outfielders and a top goalkeeper to make the move to the student club from west Cork while a trio of Cork C of I men – Shrew Power, Darren Wilkinson and Brian Stockil – also join the students. Dave Egner oversees their attempts to gel as he takes on the coaching role, starting with the hosting of Ashton at the Mardyke.
Eddie Kirwan’s side have had a similarly productive summer with a dozen arrivals with Peter Catchpole’s return to Munster following a year of EYHL hockey with Railway Union will be a big boost.
Last year’s leading pair, C of I B and Bandon meet at Garryduff on day one with the former’s ranks potentially stretched a little thinner due to a trio of their squad moving to Pembroke and the UCC three also moving on.
For Bandon, their two big additions are Clinton Sweetnam at the back following his year in Vancouver, playing with the Jokers club, and goal-getter Fionn O’Leary. They swept to the title last season by nine points with just one loss in 15 games and so remain the side to catch.
Cork Harlequins will look to continue their recovery this term and start with an away date against Limerick – packed with underage interpro talent – in Villiers.
On the women’s side, UCC and Catholic Institute showed their power a week ago with big wins over Limerick and Waterford, respectively.
For UCC, Kate Harvey’s first half double put them on course before they netted seven more after the break to race to a 9-0 win. On Sunday, they meet newly promoted Belvedere who returned to the top division with a 1-0 win over Ashton courtesy of Emer O’Connell’s single goal.
Insta’s first date was a 5-0 win over Waterford; next on their agenda is a first home date of the season against Ashton at Rosbrien. Bandon host Limerick with both sides looking for their first win and first goals of the campaign.
Munster Division 1: Cork Church of Ireland B v Bandon, Garryduff, 3pm; Limerick v Cork Harlequins , Villiers, 2pm; University College Cork v Ashton, Mardyke, 12pm.
Munster Division 1
Saturday: Bandon v Limerick, Bandon Grammar School, 2pm; Catholic Institute v Ashton, Rosbrien, 12.30pm.
Sunday: University College Cork v Belvedere, Mardyke, 2pm.
** Men’s Munster Division One previews **
Last season: 4th Munster Division One
Coach: Eddie Kirwan
Players in: Peter Catchpole (Railway Union), John Catchpole (UCC),Henry Donnelly (UCC), Andrew Remo (year out), Conor Crosbie (Limerick), Trevor Gray (Limerick), Craig O’Byrne (Harlequins), Dave Doherty (UCC), Harry Compton (Midleton), Stuart O’Grady (Cork C of I), Vasquez (Terassa, Spain)
Players out: Mark Falvey, James O Leary (both UCC), Shane Webster (work), Alan Good (USA)
Overview: Ashton have seen 11 players come in during the summer to strengthen their ranks while coach Eddie Kirwan will get support from Kevin Tattan, the Cork City FC high-performance coach who has been drafted in to do the physical preparation and some coaching elements.
Kirwan is looking for his side “to push on with a more consistent basis towards the top end and have strong runs in all the cups”. They have had four preseason ties with mixed results and performances as the process of integrating new players into the squad takes time but the coach feels things are taking shape in the lead-up to their opening tie.
Last season: Munster Division One winners; Irish Hockey Trophy first round; Munster Senior Cup finalists; Peard Cup semi-final
Player-coach: Alastair Smith
Players in: Fionn O’Leary (UCC), Clinton Sweetnam (Vancouver Jokers).
Players out: Colin Kingston (UCC), Callum Crowley (UCC), Conor Robinson (UCC)
Overview: Gaining Fionn O’Leary will prove to be important for the west Cork side as he adds an extra dimension to the attack. The return of Clinton Sweetnam will also be a welcome sight with the loss of Colin Kingston. Sweetnam will provide experience and calmness to the defence.
Sean Nyhan is due to return to the fold having undergone a lengthy knee Injury to give options in Defence and Midfield. With top quality youth players coming through the ranks, it gives plenty of options for the coming season.
Player-coach Ali Smith says of the season ahead: “We as a team feel that the focus has to be to go for everything in Munster this year. Everything is very much up for grabs and if we can keep key players fit we feel we are in with a big shout on all competitions.”
Last season: 6th Munster Division One
Coach: Dave Egner (1st Season)
Players In: Colin Kingston, Calum Crowley, Conor Robinson (all Bandon), Adam O’Callaghan (Railway Union), Shrew Power, Darren Wilkinson, Brian Stockil (Cork C of I), Dan Moore (Year Out), Eoin Finnegan (Kilkenny), Ciarán McGregor (Midleton), Steven Jermyn (Harlequins) James O’Leary, Mark Falvey (Ashton)
Players Out: Fionn O’Leary (Bandon), John McEvoy (Railway Union), Stuart Miller, Hugh Woulfe
Overview: Change has been the main characteristic of UCC’s summer recruitment drive. The loss of Fionn O’Leary’s goal-scoring prowess is undoubtedly a huge loss to this year’s squad but the sheer quantity of established players coming into UCC will certainly help to offset that damage.
Shrew Power, Darren Wilkinson and Brian Stockil all make the move from C of I, they will add their experience of playing and training with an ever-improving IHL side in search of regular playing time.
Last year’s senior league winners Bandon see three players make the move to College and combined with the likes of Adam O’Callaghan and Dan Moore returning, there will be a huge competition for places.
From last season’s team Sam Grace, fresh from his summer of playing with the Irish U-21 squad in the Europeans, sees him step up to first team captain and Glenn Healy moving on to other executive functions.
Last year’s coach Andrew Scannell will benefit from being able to focus all his attention on playing and will no doubt prove to be a pivotal part of this young team.
Dave Egner, in his first season as head coach, will have the league title firmly in his sights this year with the Munster Senior Cup and Irish Hockey Trophy also seen as very realistic targets. Two promising draws in pre-season matches with varying squads shows just how tough a job Dave has on his hands this year. Regardless of who inevitably will be selected, College will definitely be a team to watch out for given its depth and ambitious squad.
No information provided to date for Cork C of I B, Cork Harlequins and Limerick.