The season starts here: Munster’s runners and riders assemble

Munster hockey’s biggest derby returns for the first time in four seasons as Cork C of I and Harlequins face off on the opening day of men’s Division One on Saturday.

The circumstances are unfortunate. C of I’s relegation from the all-island EY Hockey League in the spring means there is no side from the southern province at the top table this term.

But the renewed rivalry will bring back a marquee showdown to Farmers’ Cross (2.30pm) with at least some of the lustre remaining.

Harlequins’ Julian Dale taking on Cork C of I’s Alec Moffett last season. Pic: Munster Hockey

Denis Pritchard’s C of I are keen to get straight back to the top table and six new arrivals see them significantly strengthened.

Munster Under-18 heroes – winners of the province’s first interpro title in 15 years last weekend – Mark Collins and Rob Sweetnam join the panel from Bandon along with Phil Sweetnam (from Ashton), Mark Horgan, Eoin Finnegan (both UCC) and South African Andrew Fenske widen the panel significantly.

Billy Lynch’s retirement is compensated for well by Peter Coulter but Alex Burns and Tony Brophy’s moves up to Dublin will be tougher to replace.

Quins, meanwhile, have Julian Dale available for the whole season following his spectacular stint last term, netting over 40 goals after his return midseason from Belgium.

Bandon, meanwhile, are gunning for a place back in the EYHL Division 2. The west Cork side start their campaign against last year’s surprise package Waterford with Ian Hosford, Calum Crowley and Rob Smith back in the fold. The Deise men, however, have seen four of their shining lights move to Dublin including Under-21 international Ben Johnson bound for Three Rock Rovers.

Ashton face Catholic Institute in the other game on the agenda while UCC wait in the wings to make their seasonal entry.

Saturday 21st September 2019

Men’s Munster Division 1: Ashton v Catholic Institute @ Ashton School, 3.30pm; Bandon v Waterford @ Bandon GS, 3pm; Cork Harlequins v Cork Church of Ireland, Farmers’ Cross, 2.30pm

Ashton Hockey Club

Last season: 4th Munster Division One

Coach: Pat Healy and Phil Oakley (1st season)

Players In: John Sweetnam (Railway Union), Euan Stothers (UCC), Mark Falvey (UCC), Ethan Ball Players Out: Kieran Healy (Retired), David Doherty (Travel), Gary Wilkinson, Andy Lane, David Treacy (work outside of Cork), Henry Donnelly (work commitments), James Allen (UCC)

Captain/Vice: Stuart O’Grady/Malcolm Coombes

Ashton in action against UCC last term. Pic: Munster Hockey

A new pitch and a new look team. New coaching partnership, Phil Oakley and Pat Healy, bring a depth of hockey knowledge to a team that has seen its squad empty and re-fill over the summer.

The squad exodus was mostly driven by players emigrating the city with James Allen the sole player transferring to a rival Munster team. Rejoining the Ashton cause are a trio of players – John Sweetnam, Mark Falvey and Euan Stothers – who will all bring some experience and directness to the Ashton attack.

With the new pitch in place this season, Ashton will be hoping this season can bring some improved performances at home. A small squad will be a challenge for the players and coaches alike but within the squad there is some seasoned Division 1 players who should bring some consistency and stability to a squad in flux.

Bandon Hockey Club

Last season: 2nd Munster Division One, Peard Cup winners, Munster Senior Cup finalists

Coach: Dave Buttimer (3rd Year) and Nigel Buttimer (1st Year)

Players In: Ian Hosford (Sabbatical), Rob Smith (Sabbatical), Calum Crowley (Sabbatical)

Players Out: Rob Sweetnam (CI), Mark Collins (CI)

Captain/vice: Fionn O’Leary Captain and Ross Smyth VC

Bandon and Harlequins in the Munster Senior Cup final. Pic: Munster Hockey

Nigel Buttimer will be hoping to use his experience of playing hockey at the very top level to drive the standards in Bandon this season and take them to the next level. David Buttimer also returns this season to make up a formidable coaching team that will be looking to lead Bandon back to winning ways after a relatively disappointing season last time out after the highs of 2017/18.

Bandon will be disappointed to lose some of their young talent as Mark Collins and Rob Sweetnam made the move to C of I to play EYHL 2.  However, they had great representation on the Munster underage squads recently and no doubt this talent will be blooded throughout the season.

Captain Fionn O’Leary was clear on the targets for the year: “The main ambition this year is to get back into the IHL 2 for the following season.  We believe that is where we belong. We will also be targeting a win in one of the Munster Cups/Leagues competitions.”

Catholic Institute Hockey Club

Last season: 5th Munster Division One

Coach: Ivan Moore (1st year); Management team members: Dave Brosnan and John Geary.

Players In: Simon Brickenden (back from a few years abroad)

Players Out: Jannis Von Maydell (THK Rissen Germany)

Captain/vice: Cormac O’Byrne (c) & Roy Gleeson (vc)

Incoming coach Ivan Moore is hoping he can guide a relatively young group of players to make their mark and build on their fifth place from last term.

“We have some young guys coming up from the seconds and a few older heads returning after a few years so it’s exciting to see what we can do with this strong team!” he said. “This year we would like to compete in the league and really cement a position in the top half of the league table.

Catholic Institute’s Ivan Moore, right, has taken on the coaching reigns in Limerick. Pic: Stephen Findlater

“After missing out in the first round of the Irish Trophy to a strong NICS side, we are hoping to go a few steps further and hopefully put our hands on some silverware come the business end of the season.”

Munster Under-18 Chris Ryan will be looking to assert himself in a strong front line and, in tandem with Roy Gleeson and Ger Hodkinson, replace the goals provided by Jannis von Maydell.

Cian Sparling, another member of the victorious u18 interpros team will be keen do build on the huge progress made over the last few seasons which saw him being a key player for the firsts. Jim Roulston and Cillian Archer are other rising stars with Stephen Healy set to contest for the goalkeeping slot with club stalwart Tristan Murphy.

Cork C of I Hockey Club

Last season: 9th EYHL; Irish Senior Cup semi-finals

Coach: Denis Pritchard (2nd year as Head Coach); Management team members: Barry Crowley and David Harvey

Players In: Eoin Finnegan (UCC), Mark Horgan (UCC), Robert Sweetnam (Bandon), Mark Collins (Bandon), Philip Sweetnam (Ashton), Andrew Fenske (South Africa)

Players Out: Alex Burns (Pembroke), Tony Brophy (YMCA) and Billy Lynch (break from hockey)

Captain/vice: Philip Byrne & Simon Wolfe

After a tough season last year in the EYHL which resulted in relegation through a shoot-out playoff loss to UCD, the season ahead is seen as a chance to rebuild with the aim of regaining their place within the top tier of the EYHL. With the majority of last year’s squad remaining and the new additions over the summer, such as the exciting under age internationals Mark Collins and Rob Sweetnam, they hopefully now have the depth of squad to challenge in all competitions they are involved in.

Denis Pritchard’s thoughts: “This will be an important season for the team to get back into the top tier of the Irish Hockey League. The year will be mainly focused on developing a strong team for the coming years by integrating the young talent in the team with the experience of senior players.”

Skipper Phil Byrne added: “The main objective is to get promoted from Irish Hockey League (IHL) Division 2 into the top National league (EYHL) for next season. The overall squad has gotten stronger with the arrival of new players and it’s important to start strong and get some confidence back in our team. We are also aiming for success in the provincial cups, league and have a good run in the Irish Sr. Cup.“

Cork C of I’s Phil Brownlow. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Cork Harlequins Hockey Club

Last season: 1st Munster Division One

Coach: Stephen Dale (2 years in role); Management team members: Donal Holland, Manager

Players In: none

Players Out: Graham Daunt (retired)

Captain/vice: Jack O Meara capt, Ross Bailey vice captain

The reigning Munster champions will have full access to Julian Dale this season after his spectacular season last time out, netting over 40 times following his return from Belgium midway through the campaign.

He is one to watch alongside skipper Jack O’Meara and John Whyte while the club has a number of rising stars like Ben Roberts, Andrew Dale, Michael Holland and Ross Bailey as they look forward to their season in EYHL2.

Coach Stephen Dale says: “we are looking to be competitive in the Munster League and EYHL2. We want to play open attacking hockey and score plenty of goals.”

O’Meara adds: “We are looking to improve further on a good showing last year as we move up a level with EY IHL 2.  We will be looking to test ourselves against the next level and at the same time requalify for EYHL 2 the following season.”

UCC Hockey Club

Last season: 7th Munster Division One

Coach: Andrew Scannell (1st Year); Management team members: Paudi Hartnett, Hockey Developement Officer; Patrick Ryan, Strength and Conditioning

Players in: Sam Lilburn (Limerick), Evin McClure (Killkenny) James Feely (Kilkenny), Garrett Sparling (Limerick), James Allen (Ashton), Simon Dring (Cork C of I), Wouter Worms (Nijmegen)

Players Out: Mark Horgan (Cork C of I), Eoin Finnegan (Cork C of I), Sam Grace (TRR), Brandon Mcevoy (Queens University), Ciaran McGregor, Euan Stothers (Ashton).

Captain/Vices: Darren Wilkinson; Billy Mulcahy, Conor Beck

Catholic Institute up against Ashton last season.

Andrew Scannell is returning as coach this year to the club where he excelled in the UCC jersey. The team also had Patrick Ryan running fitness sessions throughout the summer.

There has been several preseason matches against Catholic Institute, Munster Under-18s, Kilkenny HC, Bandon and Harlequins where they club have added a lot of new players to their ranks. Sam Lilburn represented Ireland at an underage level while various new players represented Munster on multiple occasions.

Simon Dring is making his return to hockey after a hiatus of three years. After a tough year last year, the students hope to build a new foundation with a young set of players meanwhile having support from more experienced players.

Skipper Darren Wilkinson is counted in the latter number while Conor Beck was part of the Irish Under-21 panel this year. Former Kilkenny man Evin McClure is also a tidy addition.

Scannell said of his return: “Coming back for my second stint as coach is extremely exciting, with the new players arriving to add to the quality of the players remaining from last year it should be an extremely positive season.

“Preseason has been good for us as a team; with so many new players it was important to get matches under our belt in order to be ready for the season ahead. We have a tough opening fixture but with the work we have done over preseason we feel we will be ready for the season to start.”

Waterford Hockey Club

Last season: 3rd Munster Division One; Irish Hockey Trophy winners

Coach: Senior players within the team, with Bryan Madden; Management team members: David Quinn, Brad Rouhana

Players in: Teo Sitjar (Spain)

Players out: Ben Johnson (Three Rock Rovers), Harry McCarthy, Ethan McInerney, David Gahan (all YMCA)

Captain/vice: Rory Isaacs; Isaac Johnson

After the loss of key players moving to Dublin, Waterford have already seen many players who have developed through their youth system come of age, with many expecting to get regular starts including four Munster Under-18 players.

Waterford’s Brad Rouhana. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Isaac Johnson has been building a reputation for never giving an inch. Ian Balding and Ben McInerney are two other players who can change the outcome of a game. Rory Treacy is a rising star, fresh from his Irish Under-16 appearances.

The Deise recently retained the McBride Cup, Waterford’s annual tournament with Kilkenny and Enniscorthy. In January, they are hoping for the return of schools All-Ireland winning coach Stuart Greene’s return from his stint in Australia as Waterford look to retain their Irish Hockey Trophy title.

Rory Isaacs said of their chances: “This year we have a good young squad with the potential to recreate the successful league and cup campaigns we had last season, with the hope of maybe even improving in the league.

“It will be tough, that much is certain, but we believe that we have the depth to be able to compete with the likes of Church Of Ireland, Harlequins and Bandon for a top 4 spot once again.

“The growth of JAG internationals like Ian Balding, Ben McInerney and Rory Treacy, as well as the emergence of Cameron Wagenaar and Isaac Johnson, topped off with the experience of David Quinn and Irish O-35 international Brad Rouhana, we feel the balance is good. I look forward to the season ahead.”

Partners of The Hook