The return of the men’s EY Hockey League will hope to beat the frost and avoid further fixture congestion as the competition is scheduled for a comeback on Saturday.
December’s World Cup means the majority of clubs are already playing catch-up with some clubs still with 13 games left to play between now and April 27.
Round 7 of the competition from November 10 has already been pushed back to March 16 while new dates have been found for six other games as the fixtures come thick and fast over the next few weeks.
With predicted cold weather overnight, Hockey Ireland did reiterate to clubs the cold weather procedures but most will be keen to start getting back into full gear after a stop-start first half.
Monkstown player-coach Gareth Watkins outlines the situation for his crew with six league games between now and March 2.
“The first half of the season was quite disjointed with only five league games, one of which was a midweek refix against TRR from their EHL weekend,” he said in advance of their tie with Cork C of I at the ALD Merrion Fleet Arena.
“It meant after the first three weeks, our fixtures were very stop start and while performances improved throughout the first half of the season, we didn’t make any major impact on results.
“We have had a good winter break with a big focus on conditioning, we now face 13 games in 10 weeks, including two double weekends in a row in February. Our ability to cope with that workload and not lose people to soft tissue injuries will be important.”
He is hoping the likes of Ryan Spencer and Gavin Gleeson continue to develop into the season to stake a claim for selection. Karl Lynch is on the way back from a long-term knee injury but Rory Nichols is going away on Erasmus in Australia in a couple of weeks after a good start to the season.
Their coastal venue is one of the most likely to beat the frost as is St Andrew’s where Glenanne will come up against Lisnagarvey.
Garvey travel south without Timmy Cockram who is unavailable for the rest of the season due to work commitments but Cole Chambers – brother of Troy – has joined the club.
Coach Errol Lutton was pleased enough with how his side managed their transition to a much younger panel following Paul Gleghorne, Michael Robson, Sean Murray and Neal Glassey’s moves abroad.
“After a few changes from last year we have made a lot of progress with a younger squad this last three months during the IHL break, especially during the domestic cup competitions,” coach Errol Lutton said
“A solid start in the IHL with nine points from five games as all teams now enter a busy phase. It certainly looks to be as competitive an IHL as there’s been since it started and we obviously hope to push for a top four place.”
They meet a Glenanne side who have yet to be beaten in the league and have picked off a couple of strong wins in the Mills Cup in the past few weeks.
The three games in Ulster are all subject to early pitch inspections with the possibility of frost highly likely.
For Banbridge’s game against Pembroke, Mark Tumilty says they are going into the tie with a spring in their step following a double-boost.
“We received excellent news on Friday that Eugene will not need surgery on his hand and is available to play this weekend. I am also delighted that Philip Brown is back training with the squad and I hope to involve him next weekend in the Cookstown game.
“Preparation has been difficult due to the cancellation of the Anderson Cup at short notice, so we had limited opportunity to arrange friendly fixtures. However the commitment of the players to training has been excellent during January and I feel we are ready for the second half of the season.”
Cookstown, meanwhile, are up against Three Rock Rovers and will have to manage without goalkeeper Josh McCabe who has missed their four Anderson Cup games in the past few weeks.
Ashley Gillis has been ably deputising in his absence and will compete with Josh Anderson for the number one spot. Timmy Sloan’s work responsibilities mean that he will not be able to commit to hockey for the foreseeable future.
“Big aggregate wins over Portadown and Newry in the Anderson Cup as well as a confidence-building victory in the Ulster Indoor Championship have our guys in pretty a decent frame of mind going into the second half of the season,” said Cookstown coach Michael Haycock.
“With a young squad like we have, it was always going to be a season where we hoped to make small improvements when compared to the year before. In that regard I think we are going in the right direction. However, we will be asking our players for more in the run in.
“We got off to a flyer against YM and had a great draw against the Glens but there have been a few missed opportunities for points along the way too.
“If we can keep playing the way we want, keep building that confidence, togetherness and mental hardness, then I think we will be able to turn those close defeats into draws or better and we will obviously be in a much better place in the league as a result.”
Three Rock are another with a huge fixture pile-up on their hands with as many as 24 outdoor matches still on the horizon as well as a European indoor trip to Oslo next week.
To that end, the midweek cancelation of their Mills Cup semi-final against Pembroke could not have been more unwelcome.
Annadale host YMCA at Strathearn in another tie hoping to get the green light.
In Leinster Division One, the big tie sees Corinthian take on Railway Union in the top three jockeying. Railway continue to be understrength due to injuries but Chris Reilly looks set for a return. Leaders UCD host Dublin North but their 11.15am tip off time could struggle to beat the conditions.
Men’s fixtures (all Saturday)
EY Hockey League – Round 9: Annadale v YMCA, Strathearn, 2.30pm; Banbridge v Pembroke, Havelock Park, 2.30pm; Cookstown v Three Rock Rovers, Steelweld Park, 2.30pm; Glenanne v Lisnagarvey, St Andrew’s, 2.45pm; Monkstown v Cork C of I, ALD Merrion Fleet Arena, 2.15pm
Leinster Division 1: Clontarf v Rathgar, Mount Temple, 12.30pm; Dublin University v Kilkenny, Santry Avenue, 12pm; Railway Union v Corinthian, Park Avenue, 1.15pm; UCD v Dublin North, Belfield, 11.15am
Munster Senior Cup – 1st Round: Cork Harlequins v Cork C of I B, Farmers’ Cross, 2.30pm; UCC v Bandon, Mardyke, 2pm; Waterford v Catholic Institute, Newtown, 3.30pm