Corinthian coach Trevor Dagg knows that while reigning champions Three Rock Rovers will not field their front-line first team, there are few better equipped sides in Ireland to cope with the new rules when it comes to St Stephen’s Day’s Neville Cup final.
This season saw the competition’s regulations tweaked to limit EYHL clubs from using their top 13 registered players, allowing only those who can feature in Leinster league games to play.
It means Rovers will field largely a second team in the decider at Serpentine Avenue at 2pm. The adjustment has seen Leinster league clubs be far more competitive with three of the four semi-finalists coming from Division One.
Three Rock, though, won this title a year ago with a largely second-tier side with goalkeeper Shane O’Brien putting in a man of the match performance.
And Dagg knows plenty about their strength in depth: “Rovers are going through a real golden period at the moment and they probably have 30 to 35 players who can play first team hockey,” he said.
“You have guys like Peter Blakeney and Garry Ringwood. They would get into any team, even at this stage of their careers and so this will be a very difficult game for us.”
Beyond that duo, the Rovers side is largely made-up of teenagers with Luke Adams, Ali Empey, Alex Flynn, Sam Walker, Calum Adair, Sam Ryder and Matthew Walker all on the initial squad list named for the tie.
Corinthian, meanwhile, are having a strong campaign with plenty of wins across the Leinster and EYHL2 leagues as well as cup runs in the Neville, Mills and Irish Senior.
For them, despite being a couple of weeks into the season, Dagg cites early October as the key phase for his squad when they played Railway Union four times in quick succession.
They lost the first tie in the Leinster league 3-1 before facing into three cup encounters against the Sandymount side back-to-back.
“We had a meeting after that first game and said if we don’t do anything in these games, our season could almost be over already.”
They won all three to give a huge amount of impetus to the campaign. They have 15 wins out of 18 this season with Ian Stewart banging in over 20 goals while Conor Motyer’s return after a year out with an Achilles injury has been a massive boost.
It has been a gruelling schedule but Dagg says: “When you are winning, it’s not an issue. Thankfully we haven’t been too hamstrung win injuries and have built a broader player base.
“It’s a lot of hockey but, in fairness, we are having a cracking season.”
“When you are winning, it’s not an issue. Thankfully we haven’t been too hamstrung win injuries and have built a broader player base.
“We had two separate weeks where we had four games in a week so we have had to rotate the players between games and also managing it within games.”
The reds are in the decider of the festive cup for the first time since 2014 with Dagg reporting a full bill of health. The last meeting of the two sides was in March’s Mills Cup final.
From that day, four of the Rovers players are likely to feature again – with eight from last year’s Neville final side – while the reds can no longer draw on Jonny Bruton, Neil Pelow and Henry Micks but still have around a dozen players lining out again from the St Patrick’s Day meeting.
** Entry is free to the Neville Cup final with a charity collection taking place on the day for Cottage Home
Neville Cup final (St Stephen’s Day): Three Rock Rovers vs Corinthian, 2pm, Serpentine Avenue
Three Rock Rovers: S O’Brien, A Flynn, A Empey, B McCrea, C Adair, C Empey, D Shirley, G Ringwood, K Mullins, L Adams, L McSharry, M Walker, P Blakeney, S Ryder, S Walker, S Madeley, S O’Brien
Corinthian: R Murray, A Sutton, A Kemp, B Murphy, C Motyer, D Treacy, D Howard, D Winn, G Dagg, H Burns, I Stewart, J Perdue, J Roberts, J Greaney, R Clarke, R Howard
Umpires: Shane O’Donnell, Simon McAllister