Glenanne can take a massive step toward a first national title since 2010 as they host Three Rock Rovers on Saturday at St Andrew’s (2.30pm) in the biggest game of the season to date.
The Glens produced a superb first half of the season, winning eight out of 10 EYHL games, building a four-point lead to be out on their own.
Chief among that run was a huge comeback win over Rovers from 2-0 down, edging a 3-2 win in the end against the reigning EY Champions Trophy winners with Eddie O’Malley showing typical predatory instincts.
He is back in the fray following a broken nose sustained before Christmas and the Glens will be at close to full strength though Rowland Rixon-Fuller is on coaching duty with North Kildare.
A feature has been their battling instinct with all bar one of their wins in the first half of the season coming by a single goal. In addition to big comebacks, late goals have been a major feature, memorably against both Annadale and Pembroke, and they have a perfect record at their adopted Booterstown home.
For Rovers, they have yet to lose away from home, producing a clean sweep of four wins in Ulster already and this will be their seventh away date of the campaign. The Rathfarnham club were shy five players last weekend but can recall Harry MacMahon after illness and Richard Pautz who is back after a winter spell in South Africa.
Their pace on the counter was shown in full force against Cookstown a week ago while extra defensive options could free Jody Hosking to move further up the field. A win would reduce the Glens gap to one point but if the greens prevail, the title would look to be out of reach.
On a busy weekend for Rovers, they play in the Leinster indoor league final on Sunday against Railway Union at 6.30pm at St Columba’s.
Elsewhere, Pembroke will hope their game – their trip north in 2018 already – with Lisnagarvey can get the go-ahead in a crucial tie between third and fourth in the table.
On the pitch, they welcome back Olympians Alan Sothern and Kirk Shimmins who missed last week’s trip to Mossley where they experienced a far tougher than expected Irish Senior Cup date.
For the Dubliners, they received a big boost this week when they were included in a “consortium” of five European hockey clubs who are eligible for funding for the European Commission’s STICK project.
The brainchild of Catalan club Atletic Terrassa, the project provide funding to facilitate players take part in Erasmus+ exchange programs. Pembroke will be twinned with DCU, allowing players to move to the university to study in tandem with pursuing high level hockey. HC Rotterdam, England’s Beeston and KHC Dragons are the other European clubs taking part.
With one or both of Pembroke and Garvey dropping points, Monkstown will look to take advantage with a win over Railway Union to move into the top four.
Cookstown and Cork C of I’s tie has already been frost-bitten while Annadale and Banbridge will hope they can take the field for the first time in 2018. Both were knocked out of the Irish Senior Cup in the early rounds and so have yet to take the field in anger since the turn of the year.
Dale are due to play a refix against Garvey on January 24 before the Irish men’s team depart for a training camp in Spain.
In Leinster Division 1, UCD can welcome back a glut of players who missed their loss to Clontarf last week for the visit of Avoca to Belfield after a skiing trip. Similarly, Dublin University also will have a fuller panel when they take on YMCA.
It starts a busy 2018 for the Y who have a couple of refixes to catch up on in the coming weeks with a critical date with Corinthian on February 4. They sit in third place with games in hand that could close things up significantly.
Corinthian host a Kilkenny side that are unbeaten in the league since November 4 and will be content enough with the surface. The cats have struggled in water-based games but less bouncy turf has seen them work their patterns better, suggesting they can put it up to the league leaders.
Clontarf face Rathgar in mid-table while in the west Dublin derby, Dublin North host Weston.
Men’s fixtures (Saturday unless stated)
EY Hockey League: Annadale v Banbridge, 2.30pm, Strathearn School; Glenanne v Three Rock Rovers, 2.30pm, St Andrews College; Lisnagarvey v Pembroke Wanderers, 3pm, Comber Road; Monkstown v Railway Union, 2.30pm, The Merrion Fleet Arena
Postponed: Cookstown v Cork C of I
Leinster Indoor League final (Sunday): Three Rock Rovers v Railway Union, 6.30pm, St Columba’s
Leinster Division 1
Saturday: Clontarf v Rathgar, 12.30pm, Mount Temple; UCD v Avoca, 12.30pm, Newpark; Corinthian v Kilkenny, 12.45pm, Whitechurch Park; Dublin North v Weston, 12.45pm, NSC; Dublin University v YMCA, 2pm, Santry Avenue
Sunday: Weston v Kilkenny, 12pm, Griffeen Valley Park
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Cork Church of Ireland B, 3.30pm, Ashton School; Bandon v Limerick, 1.30pm, Bandon GS; UCC v Cork Harlequins, 2pm Mardyke.