When you are hosting a party, the last thing you want is to have to leave early while the rest of the guests enjoy themselves and that’s the case with Banbridge this weekend as they prepare for the Champions Trophy event at Havelock Park, writes John Flack.
Bann face Three Rock Rovers in the semi-finals on Saturday and, should they win a tough encounter, they will play either Lisnagarvey or Glenanne in the decider on Sunday.
Home advantage has been a massive factor since the introduction of the Champions Trophy; now in its fourth season – no club from outside the host province has reached the final of the competition.
Garvey, winners in 2016, have already earned a place in Europe next season by lifting the regulation season title and a second spot will be on offer for the final four tournament victors.
“We are looking forward playing in the finals weekend especially at our own ground.,” said Bann coach Mark Tumilty.
“I think Banbridge HC have shown over recent years we are the best in the country at hosting these events, so it gives our players an added incentive to reach the final on Sunday.
“But Three Rock will be a very difficult game; they have been very good in peaking for the club championships over the last number of years and I am sure this year will be no different.
“They have a good squad with some real quality in Daragh Walsh, Luke Madeley, Jody Hosking and Mitch Darling.
“We will have to produce our best performance of the season if we are to reach the final. I have confidence in the players that they can produce that performance on Saturday.”
Rovers come into the tie off a reasonably restful week after their Euro Hockey League exploits when they pushed KHC Dragons close for three quarters. David Kane served game one of a two-game suspension in their Cork C of I tie last weekend when Walsh was unavailable due to an exam along with a number of other players.
Three Rock won at Havelock Park the last time the sides met this season, an emotional 4-3 result in February. It started a run of 12 successive wins and Rovers have not lost in Irish club competition in 14 outings after a slow start to the campaign.
For the other semi, Garvey captain James Corry, who successfully battled against cancer a year ago, is looking forward to a hard-fought tournament, starting with the Glenanne semi.
“All the games will be very close this weekend. There hasn’t been much between any of the teams so far this season,” he said.
“Glennane will be very difficult to beat as they know how to get the job done so we will have to be at our very best to stand a chance.
“All focus is on the game on Saturday. We have taken one game at a time this season and that won’t change leading into this weekend.
“The squad is very young and will learn a huge amount in the next few weeks so it will be great for their development no matter what the outcome is.
“I am just delighted to have the opportunity to captain this squad as the May 8, 2018 was the day I got the all-clear from testicular cancer.
“Now, one year on, we have won the league and are at the playoffs weekend with the Irish Cup final to come next week.”
For the Glens, they suffered a nasty drop in form since the start of March with just one win and two draws in their last eight games, including losses to each of this weekend’s opposition.
Indeed, they fell to Garvey twice back-to-back – 3-1 in the Irish Senior Cup, 5-1 in the league – to suggest they go in as marked underdogs.
In St Columba’s on Sunday, meanwhile, the last remaining place in next season’s men’s EY Hockey League will be confirmed when Cork C of I face UCD in the relegation/promotion playoff.
Denis Pritchard’s side found form in the last month to win seven out 12 points and escape automatic relegation in dramatic style, earning this playoff.
UCD, though, will be hard beaten, playing a high-pace and confrontational style of hockey that makes for a feisty tie. The speed of Mark Samuel down the right is a crucial outlet while David Nolan and Jazze Henry have plenty of quality.
They will need to be wary not to concede corners with John Jermyn about and Jonny Bruton will be a fiery presence.
** All EY Champions Trophy games will be live-streamed via EuroHockeyTV.org over the weekend
Saturday, May 4th
EY Champions Trophy semi-finals (both at Havelock Park, Banbridge): Lisnagarvey v Glenanne, 3pm; Three Rock Rovers v Banbridge, 5pm
Sunday, May 5th
EY Champions Trophy final: Lisnagarvey/Glenanne v Three Rock Rovers/Banbridge, Havelock Park, 4.45pm
EY IHL Promotion/Relegation play-off: Cork C of I v UCD, Whitechurch Park, 4.45pm