Leinster trio Glenanne, Pembroke and Three Rock Rovers will dice with Lisnagarvey for the men’s EY Champions Trophy title and the number one European spot from this season.
EY Hockey League champions Glenanne open up against Pembroke in the first semi-final in a classic encounter at 2.30pm at Grange Road which took over the hosting from Banbridge in the last few weeks.
In landing the league, the Glens ended their eight-year wait for a national title, winning out with plenty to spare. While the final margin of success was just one point, they were odds on for the title for long periods, building a 10-point gap that was only reduced once the title was confirmed.
Indeed, their only league losses came in the last week of the campaign, falling to Monkstown and Banbridge. As such, in addition to a 5-2 Irish Senior Cup semi-final defeat to TRR, there may be a bit of concern from player-coach Joe Brennan about how they can recover their form for the finals weekend.
Nonetheless, it has been quite a return to the top table this season from being well outside the playoff places last term. A first factor has been the move from Tallaght to St Andrew’s in Booterstown to play and train on a water-based pitch.
Next has been the arrival of Iain Walker in goals who has been a revelation. With Richie Shaw returning from Australia, Shannon Boucher following a year with Hurley in the Netherlands and a general widening of their panel, they developed an uncanny ability to come from behind to win games with late goals.
Nine of their 13 wins were by a single goal, showing their skill at closing out games. In Shane O’Donoghue, they have one of the league’s outstanding players, scoring 16 times from midfield.
Against Pembroke this term, they have played out a couple of spectacular ties. The first was a 3-3 draw while Pembroke looked set to win the next only to let in two goals in the dying minutes to fall 4-3.
Pembroke do have an ace up their sleeve in Alan Sothern with 31 goals to his name this campaign while Kirk Shimmins’ battle with O’Donoghue in midfield will be a highlight.
They will miss Harry Spain’s calm assurance at the back but Irish international Keith O’Hare has stood out in his absence, stepping out of defence to excellent effect. Keeper Mark Ingram is another in fine form and will need to be on his game for a side who do tend to play quite open, conceding 41 times in the league.
Pembroke qualified for the final four on the last day of the regular season with a 4-3 win over Cork C of I.
The second semi-final is a repeat of last year, one in which Three Rock beat Lisnagarvey in a shoot-out. Since then, Rovers have won six trophies including last year’s Champions Trophy and April’s Irish Senior Cup along with two Leinster cup titles and two indoor competitions.
Indeed, Rovers are the form team coming into the weekend with seven wins in a row in the league as they build toward this title defence, scoring the most and conceding the least in the regular season.
Daragh Walsh was recently named the club’s player of the season and her forms part of a strong midfield with Jody Hosking and Ben Walker while Olympian Mitch Darling dipping between them and the forward line. John Mullins’ arrival from Clontarf last season has been a big addition while Harry Morris is on form.
Irish back-up keeper Jamie Carr dons the pads while Luke Madeley’s corners and solidity in the centre of defence will be key elements if they are to go back-to-back.
They meet a star-studded Lisnagarvey side who have the largest current international selection in their armoury. There is not a more formidable defensive pairing than Jonny Bell and Paul Gleghorne in operation in Irish club hockey while Neal Glassey, Matthew Nelson and Sean Murray are part of the Green Machine’s confident new breed and much of their attacks will funnel through them.
Garvey’s form, though, has been indifferent in recent times with Murray carrying a knock. They have just two wins from their last six league games – those coming against the bottom two – and bowed out of the Irish Senior Cup with a 3-0 loss on home turf to Pembroke.
If they hit form, though, they could be in line for their second EY Champions Trophy success in three seasons.
It all promises to be another epic installment of the end of season playoffs with the best in Irish club hockey on display at Grange Road, Rathfarnham.
Sunday sees the final EYHL place for 2018/19 confirmed with challengers Bangor taking on Cookstown.
Men’s EY Champions Trophy
Semi-finals (both Saturday): Glenanne vs Pembroke, 3pm; Three Rock Rovers vs Lisnagarvey, 5pm; all at Grange Road
Final (Sunday): 5pm, Grange Road
EYHL 9th Place Play-Off (Sunday): Cookstown v Bangor, 2.30pm, Shaw’s Bridge Sports Complex
€22 Weekend pass (adult only)
€17 Weekend pass (OAP /uni student)
€15 Single day pass (adult)
€10 Single day pass (OAP/uni student)
Free Secondary School Children and younger