The battle for the final EY Champions Trophy place and the division of the relegation playoff and automatic relegation spot are the chief points of interest across the final EY Hockey League weekend of the 2017/18 season.
For the women, Belfast Harlequins midweek 1-1 draw with Pegasus means it’s a straight tussle between Railway Union and Loreto for the fourth and final spot in the end of season playoffs.
Railway face the tough trip down to Cork to play second placed Harlequins, going south with a three-point advantage which they will hope to maintain.
Chasing them, Loreto have two games to go, starting off on Saturday against Trinity whom they beat 4-0 a couple of weeks ago before facing third placed Pegasus on Sunday at 3pm in Beaufort.
As such, it is very much game on with both sides having reasonable grounds for hope. Should Railway get the win, they start the weekend with 10 goals in the tank on goal difference but any other result could well unlock the door for Loreto. For their part, they are in great form of late with Sarah Torrans providing a dynamic forward presence.
At the bottom, meanwhile, Pembroke, Trinity and Hermes-Monkstown’s chances are all intertwined. Pembroke travel north to face a Belfast Harlequins side who were without 10 panelists on Wednesday – including Jenny McAuley, Claire Kilpatrick and Rhiannon Coulter – but still got the draw with Pegs.
A win ensures their safety; another outcome and they will be looking to their phones to see how the other ties are getting on. Trinity’s game to Loreto is a tough one but they showed plenty of fight in Cork last week to suggest they can snatch something.
Hermes-Monkstown face UCD for the second time in the last fortnight and need a win to have any chance of getting off the bottom rung of the ladder. In the first meeting, they kept things tight for the first half and will look to do something similar against the champions with the intention of breaking out from there.
On the men’s side, Banbridge came from 1-0 down on Tuesday night to beat Lisnagarvey 2-1 with Owen and Eugene Magee scoring. It lifted them to 26 points and fifth place, above Monkstown on goal difference and one point behind Pembroke.
As such, Pembroke have the box seat when it comes to the race for fourth and they meet a Cork C of I side with not much to play for in terms of the table. Alan Sothern’s recent scoring feats have brought his tally up to 29 in the league – almost double the next best of Shane O’Donoghue on 15 – thus far, pretty much assuring him of top spot on that front.
Keith O’Hare has also played a key role in the injured absence of Harry Spain, stepping through from defence. C of I, though, will have plenty of motivation against a side that features eight Munster men and more of whom have come through the Garryduff club’s youth system than Pembroke’s own.
Bann and Monkstown will hope for a slip-up and then garner wins of their own from away ties at Glenanne and Annadale, respectively.
In the relegation shake-up, anything other than an away win for Railway Union over Lisnagarvey will see the Dubliners relegated. Three points, though, could see them overhaul Cookstown in the relegation playoff place.
The Co Tyrone side conceded 12 times last weekend and face a Three Rock side who have beaten them twice already this term. Cookstown, though, will look to their meeting on the final day of the 2015/16 campaign when they raided Grange Road in a similar situation and they will hope Rovers will take their eye of the game in similar fashion.
Hugely experienced goalkeeper Ian Hughes lined out for Cookstown last weekend and he is included on their team list along with Josh McCabe.
After a long hard provincial season, the promotion series reaches a rapid-fire conclusion in Cork with the winners of each competition promoted while the runners-up will gain a playoff shot.
UCC fly the Munster flag once again on the women’s side with the additional boost of home advantage at the Mardyke where they will host a five-team round-robin across Saturday and Sunday.
Top spot earns automatic promotion while second gets a playoff game against the ninth place finisher in the EY Hockey League, making the stakes particularly high.
Denis Pritchard’s side meet plenty of familiar faces, meeting wildcard qualifiers Old Alex and Ulster Premier champions Lurgan in this competition for the second successive year.
Muckross – winners in Leinster – provide something of an unknown quantity to the others while NUIG are on this stage for the very first time having landed the Connacht title last week.
Lurgan coach Robbie McMinn will not be in situ as he is part of an Ulster delegation in Rotterdam, upskilling with high quality training from the likes of Dutch netminder Pirmin Blaak.
McMinn reckons UCC, especially on home turf, are the favourites but the key factor will be how their lengthy preparations have gone.
UCC’s last competitive match was over a month ago meaning they could well be fresher compared to Alex played a tough qualifier two weeks ago and Lurgan are coming off the back of four games in eight days.
The men’s playoffs are a simpler process with semi-finals on Saturday and a final on Sunday at the Mardyke. Bandon face Bangor – the Ulster runners-up – on Saturday at Garryduff in a repeat of their Irish Hockey Trophy semi which the west Cork outfit won 3-2.
If Ali Smith can hit form, it would put them in line for a date with YMCA or Instonians. Inst have the experience, winning this process two years ago with the likes of Stephen Kelso, Chris Kirk and John Watson among many to experience that success.
YM will look to the serious firepower from Ben Campbell and Grant Glutz – combining for over 60 goals this term – and have a strong squad that could well see them prevail.
Finally, there is a Division 1/2 playoff between Weston and Portrane for a possible place in next season’s Leinster Division One. It takes place at 2pm in Sutton Park on Saturday.
EY Hockey League (Saturday): Annadale v Monkstown, 3pm, Strathearn School; Glenanne v Banbridge, 3pm, St Andrews; Lisnagarvey v Railway Union, 3pm, Comber Road; Pembroke Wanderers v Cork C of I, 3pm, Serpentine Avenue; Three Rock Rovers v Cookstown, 3pm, Grange Road
EYHL Provincial Play-offs – semi-Finals (Saturday): Bangor v Bandon, 12pm, Garryduff; YMCA v Instonians, 2pm, Garryduff.
Final (Sunday): Bangor/Bandon v YMCA/Instonians, 2pm, The Mardyke
Leinster Division 1/2 playoff: Weston v Portrane, 2pm, Sutton Park School
EY Hockey League
Saturday: Belfast Harlequins v Pembroke Wanderers, 2.30pm, Deramore Park; Cork Harlequins v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Farmers’ Cross; Pegasus v Ards, 2.30pm, Queens; Trinity v Loreto, 2.30pm, Santry Avenue; UCD v Hermes-Monkstown, 2.30pm, Belfield, 2.30pm.
Sunday: Loreto v Pegasus, 3pm, Beaufort.
EYHL Provincial Play-offs (all at the Mardyke)
Saturday: Lurgan v UCC, 10.15am; NUIG v Muckross, 11.45am; Old Alexandra v Lurgan, 1.30pm; UCC v NUIG, 3pm; Muckross v Old Alexandra, 4.45pm.
Sunday: NUIG v Lurgan, 9.30am; Muckross v UCC, 11am; Old Alexandra v NUIG, 12.30pm; Lurgan v Muckross, 4pm; UCC v Old Alexandra, 5.30pm.