The top half face the bottom half of the men’s EY Hockey League with the majority of the lower ranked hoping they can use home comforts to good effect on week seven of the competition.
Banbridge and Glenanne’s roles in all this is a surprise with the former – regular season champions last term – languishing in seventh while the Glens have three points to spare at the top.
Three of the last four ties between the clubs have been draws since the inception of the EYHL with Bann edging the other tie 3-2. Momentum, though, is with Glenannne who have recorded six wins from seven.
They travel north with Richie Shaw managing an injury while Rowland Rixon-Fuller will likely miss out due to his coaching duties with North Kildare, something that ruled him out last Saturday. As such, they were working off a panel of 14 for the most part against Railway but two third-quarter corners got them by.
For Bann, their run of form has been compounded by the continued absence of Owen Magee and Jonny McKee while Eugene Magee could be out until February following a broken finger which required an operation.
“We are where we are, but things can’t get any worse,” Mark Tumilty told the Belfast Telegraph. “The loss of quality players during the close season, followed by a spate of long-term injuries hasn’t helped our cause.
“But the players coming in are fast getting used to our system and better days surely lie ahead.”
The Glens good start continued in midweek when they beat Pembroke in the Mills Cup first round. Shannon Boucher got his first goal of the season in normal time with a drag while Greg Chambers scored for Pembroke in a 1-1 game.
The tie was decided by strokes which the Glens won 4-2; they will play Clontarf next.
While Cork C of I are the only Munster side in the men’s EY Hockey League, the Garryduff outfit are viewing their Saturday game with Dublin’s Pembroke as their main derby for the season.
Indeed, on social media they are pitching it as the “battle of Cork C of I v Dublin C of I” with “both teams playing at home” given the proliferation of players who have made the move north in recent times.
Nick Burns, Stephen Sweetnam, Richard Sweetnam, Wesley Brownlow, Greg Chambers and Richard Lynch could all feature for Pembroke against their former club while former Bandon men Scott Sullivan and Patrick Shanahan are also at the Ballsbridge club.
The two Sweetnams and Lynch joined from C of I during the summer while Burns, Sullivan and Shanahan returned to Pembroke after time away. Throw in Waterford man David Quinn and roughly half the Pembroke panel hail from Munster.
Such an influx goes a long way to explaining the Dublin club’s rise into the top half of the table, Alan Sothern’s 12 goals in seven games the other key factor.
For C of I, there is a much lower chance of recruiting new faces and so their panel is significantly trimmed this season, perhaps explaining a slightly mixed start to the campaign.
Nonetheless, the club is famed for developing from within and teenager Kevin O’Dea is the latest to be inducted into the first team following a star turn for the Munster Under-16s.
Saturday’s match at Garryduff will also mark the seventh anniversary since the passing of Andy Chambers with a bring and buy cake sale fundraiser in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation taking place throughout the day.
Railway showed enough in their tie against Glenanne to suggest they can cause problems for opponents with Stephen O’Keeffe in strong form, Kenny Carroll tenacious as always and Mark English a touch of class.
They beat Dublin University in the Mills Cup with Rob Devlin scoring twice, setting up a date with either Monkstown or YMCA in round two.
But they need to make more of the chances that come their way against Lisnagarvey on Saturday. Seven corners went unconverted against the Glens along with a couple of strong chances.
For Garvey, Paul Gleghorne is back after a lengthy injury but Jonny Bell sustained a facial injury against Cookstown so could lead to a straight swap in personnel.
Annadale player-coach Peter Caruth travels to his former club, Monkstown, with whom he won the IHL in years gone by. Town have a strong record on home turf so far this season but the missing trio of Gareth Watkins, Geoff Cole and Davy Carson in the forward line means they will look more to midfield for goals.
To that end, Guy Sarratt’s eight goals, primarily from set plays, make him the second most prolific marksman so far this season.
Cookstown, buoyed by a brilliant last few weeks, welcome Three Rock Rovers to Steelweld Park. Rovers were without a number of key players last week with Jody Hosking, David Kane and Richard Pautz all out, meaning the likes of Rob McCollum and Matthew Walker are enjoying runs in the panel.
Jamie Carr’s return from injury, though, is a big addition between the posts for the Grange Road club. It is the first of two meetings between the clubs in a week with an Irish Senior Cup date seven days later.
Cookstown are riding high after wins over Railway and Instonians, capping it with an away draw at Lisnagarvey with the McCabe twins Scott – up front – and Josh in goal having a dream day out.
Greg Allen, Stu Smyth – with seven league goals already – and Jon Ames have also been leading the way and will look to match the tempo of a week before to keep their series of results going.
In Leinster, leaders Corinthian face a Dublin University side in good form with 10 points out of 12 from their last four games in a big test of the students’ mettle for the long haul.
Kilkenny, meanwhile, will be keen to back up their away win at Clontarf when they face a defensively sound Avoca. Tarf will look to get back on the winning trail when they go to Weston while UCD and YMCA are favourites against Dublin North and Rathgar, respectively.
Men’s fixtures (all Saturday)
EY Hockey League: Banbridge v Glenanne, 2.45pm, Havelock Park; Cookstown v Three Rock Rovers, 2.30pm, Steelweld Park; Cork Church of Ireland v Pembroke Wanderers, 2.30pm, Garryduff; Monkstown v Annadale, 2.30pm, Merrion Fleet Arena; Railway Union v Lisnagarvey, 3pm, Park Avenue
Leinster Division 1: Kilkenny v Avoca, 3pm, Kilkenny College; Corinthian v Dublin University, 12pm, Whitechurch Park; Rathgar v YMCA, 12.30pm, High School; Weston v Clontarf, 1pm, Griffeen Valley Park; Dublin North v UCD, 1.30pm, NSC
Munster Division 1: Bandon v Cork Church of Ireland B, 1.15pm, Bandon GS; Cork Harlequins v Limerick, 1pm, Farmers’ Cross
Mills Cup, first round: Dublin University 0 Railway Union 2 (R Devlin 2); Pembroke 1 (G Chambers) Glenanne 1 (S Boucher), Glenanne win 4-2 on strokes