Cork C of I, Cookstown and YMCA’s monumental relegation tussle will take the major focus on the final day of the men’s EY Hockey League with just one point separating the sides.
It is a fascinating denouement where both C of I and Cookstown are in the position that they could win and still be relegated or lose and stay up, such are the permutations.YM are in the best position, one point better off and facing a Pembroke side already eyeing the summer break, conceding 16 times in their last three wildly contrasting outings, losing 8-1 and 6-1 either side of a 5-2 win over Banbridge.
For the Y, Gabriel de Grandis is currently in Malaysia with the Brazilian national team and so will not be around. Pembroke have seen the likes of Paddy Conlon and Patrick Good come back into the side as they cope with a large number of unavailable players in recent times.
For C of I, they have a chance of completing a remarkable escape from the jaws of relegation when they host Three Rock Rovers. Three games ago, they were six points adrift but their first league win in 503 days has suddenly built momentum and two wins out of three has them off the bottom.
They face a Rovers side who they have a wretched record against but there may never be a better time to play them at Garryduff. The tie is a ripe one to rest players following a campaign featuring three European trips and runs to three outdoor and two indoor cup finals.
Daragh Walsh (exam) and David Kane (suspended) both out while Luke Madeley could well be rested to avoid a possible yellow card that could have him suspended too.
Theirs is an interesting equation with neither a win, loss or draw guaranteeing them of safety nor ruling them out of relegation. For instance, even if C of I win, Cookstown can still overtake them if they beat playoff-bound Banbridge by three more goals than the Cork side.
Lose and C of I could stay in ninth place – and a relegation playoff – should it be by three goals less than Cookstown lose by.
For Cookstown, they play Banbridge for the second time in a week with Bann winning in the Anderson Cup semi-final 4-2. Like Rovers, Bann could protect their players ahead of the Champions Trophy.
“We’ve a tough match, there’s no doubting that, but I think we’ve put in enough good performances of late against the big sides to go into it with belief that we can win it,” said Cookstown captain Greg Allen.
“We didn’t show it against Three Rock last week but we know that it’s do-or-die now. We’re a young team, but we’re a team with a lot of experience under our belts. It won’t be for want of effort that we come out on the wrong side of this, I promise you that.
“We need to show our composure, stick to the game plan and, with a little bit of luck, we’ll come out with the win.”
Annadale’s date with Lisnagarvey and Glenanne’s game with Monkstown do not look like having too much on the line.
At Whitechurch Park, the EYHL Division 2 season comes to a conclusion with Leinster’s top three in action against Ulster Premier League winners Instonians.Trevor Dagg’s reds have been in immaculate form since Christmas but this is where it all really counts for their season with Saturday’s semi-final against Railway Union crucial.
It will be the sixth meeting between the sides this season with the reds winning three and Railway one – back in September – with the most recent tie in February a 1-1 draw.
Corinthian will miss Conor Motyer at the base of their team but have the lethal attacking talents of Ian Stewart and David Howard’s corners who have combined for 40 goals this term.
The second semi-final pits UCD against Inst. The students were unbeaten until March in the league but have since lost four out of six and so will need to find some form.
Inst withdrew from their midweek Anderson Cup semi-final in favour of staying fresh for these playoffs. They have a doubt over the fitness of Stephen Kelso.
The semi-final winners go into a Sunday final at 2pm in Whitechurch Park. The overall winner goes straight up while the runners-up face the promotion-relegation tie.
Men’s weekend fixtures
EY Hockey League: Annadale v Lisnagarvey, Strathearn School, 2.30pm; Cookstown v Banbridge, Cookstown H.S., 2.30pm; Cork Church of Ireland v Three Rock Rovers, Garryduff, 2.30pm; Glenanne v Monkstown, St Andrews College, 2.30pm; YMCA v Pembroke Wanderers, Wesley College, 2.30pm
EYHL 2 Semi-Finals (Saturday): Corinthian v Railway Union, Whitechurch Park, 10.30am; UCD v Instonians, Whitechurch Park, 12.30pm
Sunday: Final: Whitechurch Park, 2pm