Bann to test Pembroke IHL retention credentials

The Irish Hockey League returns for its second installation tomorrow with a series of enticing games around the country, none more so than in Havelock Park where Banbridge attempt to foil Pembroke’s hopes of beginning their defence in style.

The ‘Broke will be without Gordon Elliott and Justin Sherriff but are one club able to subsume that kind of loss with the minimum of fuss. Their quadruple-winning squad has been added to with Andy McConnell’s arrival allowing Craig Fulton more time on the sideline to work out his tactics from the sideline while Adam Pritchard increases the defensive options and adds a brilliant option to face down the barrel at corner-time.

He reacquaints himself with Ross McCandless who scored the winner in their mini-battle for Bann against Cork C of I last season in the Ulster showcase game, tipping off at 7pm.

That pair look to be the main players in Pool A though should Corinthian nick a decent haul of points in Cork at Harlequin Park on their competition debut then the Reds could well be strong contenders. Lucas Piccioli enjoyed his IHL matches with Rovers, scoring in the vital win over C of I and against Pembroke in the semi-finals and, as the one player with experience of the event under his belt, leads an innovative forward line.

Monkstown, meanwhile, travel to Instonians who have lost the services of Mark Gleghorne but still have bags of international experience in Paddy Brown, Mark Irwin and Neil Cooke.

Pool B is arguably the tougher to call. Glenanne are the favourites but a lack of game time in recent week’s may be cited as a reason to doubt them. There was little evidence to back up that view, however, last weekend with a runaway 6-2 win over UCD and 9-4 cup success against Monkstown.

Goals conceded may be an issue but Joe Brennan’s rehabilitation from injury saw him line out in both games while Graham Shaw was back on Sunday. Add Stephen Butler and Cookstown could be on for a third defeat to the Tallaght club in three seasons, ending 5-2 last Spring when the sides met in a vital game for the Glens.

At Grange Road, Three Rock play Cork C of I in a repeat of Pool B’s decisive group game. Rovers knocked the Garryduff side out with a 5-2 win but numerous changes to both panels means it is a tough tie to call. CI have the presence in midfield but may be shy on goals up front while Karl Burns, Adam Pritchard and Mark Ruddle are not around to take up defensive slots.¬†Annadale and Lisnagarvey contest an Ulster derby on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Railway Union and YMCA contest a refix of a November league game when the former club travelled to Prague for an indoor competition. The Y need the points to keep contact with the top five. For Railway, the need for three points is equally pressing in light of UCD’s recent upturn in form.

Weston will aim to reach their first national semi-final when they travel to Antrim for their toughest challenge in the Irish Hockey Trophy to date. Stuart McIlroy’s five did for Dublin Uni in the last round but the Lucanites are made of sterner stuff and with Dean Maguire back from an IHT suspension and Brian Scully likely to be back in the fold, they could well challenge one of Ulster Senior One’s front-runners.

Trinity, for their part, face Division Two league leaders Suttonians at Grange Road. They do so without Stephen Roberts who has returned to Three Rock after just four months with the students.

Men’s Irish Hockey League fixtures (for a full rundown on each team, click here)
Pool A
Saturday: Instonians vs Monkstown, 2.30pm, Shawsbridge; Cork Harlequins vs Corinthian, 2pm, Farmer’s Cross; Banbridge vs Pembroke, 7pm, Havelock Park

Pool B
Saturday: TRR vs Cork C of I, 4pm, Grange Road; Glenanne vs Cookstown, 1.30pm, Glenanne Park
Sunday: Annadale vs Lisnagarvey, 2.30pm, Lough Moss

Men’s Irish Hockey Trophy (Saturday):
Antrim vs Weston, 2.30pm, Antrim Forum; NICS vs Cliftonville, 2.30pm, Stormont

Men’s Leinster Division One (Saturday):
Railway Union vs YMCA, 2.45pm, Park Avenue

Men’s Leinster Division Two (Saturday):
Dublin University vs Suttonians, 3pm, Grange Road; Avoca vs Navan, 1.45pm, Newpark

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