Despite being two of Leinster hockey’s most decorated clubs, Pembroke and Three Rock Rovers serve up a strangely novel Neville Cup final line-up on St Stephen’s Day when they meet at Serpentine Avenue (2pm).
For Rovers, it is a first final appearance in the competition since 2007 while the host club’s wait for Neville Cup victory goes back even further. That 2007 meeting saw Rovers win out 6-1 against Pembroke, albeit against a side that was shorn of several front-line players due to a team skiing trip.
It is their third final appearance in a decade but victory has eluded them, partially due to the cosmopolitan nature of their panel, something Jonny Caren have to contend with once again.
Last year, Caren shuffled the deck for the final with a number of key players away and, for this year’s encounter, he may have to do something similar. With several players originally from Munster – along with Cedric Mushiete from Belgium – getting a full batch of players back to Dublin is unlikely to be possible.
Their route to the final has been a quick one, beating Monkstown 4-1 in the first round before running up a 6-0 quarter-final victory over Kilkenny on December 12.
It should have set up a semi-final against UCD who had eliminated Railway Union three weeks earlier. The onset of exam season, however, saw Rudi Wortmann’s side withdraw from the semi-final, allowing Pembroke direct passage to the final.
Three Rock, meanwhile, beat Avoca 5-1 in round one before edging past Glenanne in a shoot-out in their quarter-final after a 1-1 draw in normal time.
On Tuesday evening, they reached the final with a 4-2 victory over Dublin University in a well-matched tie. Kevin Mullins’ gliding touch broke the deadlock in the first few minutes before Robbie O’Hanlon equalised.
Mullins arrowed in a second from the left of the circle to restore the Rovers lead before Rob McCollum’s excellent reverse made it 3-1 before half-time. Conor Empey’s low drag-flick completed their tally before Rory Nichols’ drag beat Shane O’Brien late in the game.
For Rovers, Niall Denham has been giving youth its head so far in the Neville Cup with Harry Lynch making his first team debut, lining out in centre midfield alongside Luke Adams.
Denham was also able to give comebacks to David Kane and James Walker after spells out injured. Peter Blakeney – along with O’Brien, one of two players over 23 in the Tuesday panel – picked up a knee injury 10 minutes into the semi-final and so may be rested.
Definitely out for Rovers are Richard Pautz and Jody Hosking who are both back in South Africa for Christmas but the rest of the panel is Dublin-based.
There is no entry fee to the final but all contributions are welcome on the day for the Cottage Home charity.
In Munster, meanwhile, UCC coach Dave Egner is anticipating a far tougher encounter in the Peard Cup final against Cork C of I B than when the sides met in the Munster Division One in October.
Then, they swept to a 5-1 win but the St Stephen’s Day decider has a habit of producing the odd rogue outcome and Egner is wary of discounting the Garryduff side.
UCC have since won all four of their league ties to date while C of I have yet to register a point, a by-product of their first team departures to Dublin during the summer. But Egner saw enough in C of I’s semi-final shoot-out win over Ashton to be concerned.
“We are still favourites but it is going to be much tighter than the league game,” he told the Examiner. “In their semi-final, they looked very good going forward and they move the ball very fast. It’s also their pitch and their crowd so I would expect a much tougher tie.”
For the students, Kilkenny natives Sam Grace and Eoin Finnegan may have a little weariness in their legs as they travel down to the tie on the morning of the match. Otherwise, Egner has a fully fit panel to select from.
There is plenty of know-how in Shrew Power and Adam O’Callaghan while Darren Wilkinson and Brian Stockil will be looking to win the title for a second successive season having made the move during the summer. They are gunning for a second title of the season having already won the intervarsity Mauritius Plate.
For C of I B, they are the reigning champions but will need goalkeeper Peter Coulter – an Irish Under-21 panelist – to be on his game while Ken Twomey in midfield and Mark Gallagher up front are the other key men.
Elsewhere, Bandon reached the second round of the Irish Hockey Trophy on Saturday with a 4-2 win over Ashton.
Neville Cup semi-final: Three Rock Rovers 4 (K Mullins 2, R McCollum, C Empey) Dublin University 2 (R O’Hanlon, R Nichols)
Irish Hockey Trophy, first round: Bandon 4 (David Smith, David Jennings, Ivor Sweetnam, Fionn O’Leary) Ashton 2 (Stuart O’Grady, David Doherty)
St Stephen’s Day fixtures (Tuesday, December 26)
Neville Cup final: Three Rock Rovers v Pembroke, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue (Umpires: Bruce Bale, Colin Kavanagh)
Peard Cup final: Cork Church of Ireland B v University College Cork, 2pm, Garryduff
Ulster Denman Shield final: Queen’s v Lurgan, 1pm, Stormont
Kirk Cup final: Mossley v Kilkeel, 3pm, Stormont