Division Two ventures into new territory

The great unknown. After many years of debate over the make-up of Leinster men’s division two, a definitive decision to change was made in the spring, opening up the league to second teams.

It means that YMCA, Monkstown, Pembroke and Three Rock step up to join six first teams in the newly aligned division. Often times, suggestions have been made about the respective standards of the old divisions two and three; now they finally get their chance for proof.

How they shape up against each other is very much a shot in the dark. There are concerns, however, that manipulation of fixtures by clubs with second teams in the division can have a significant effect, playing at times that allow ‘doubling up’ of first team players.

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To go some way to guard against this outcome, the LHA fixtures committee have alternated the home and away ties for the four promoted clubs, meaning that a reliance on wholescale doubles is more than impractical, especially with match times limited to between 12 and 4pm.

Dublin Uni have received a week’s grace, meaning their date with YMCA is postponed on Saturday. Otherwise, the opening round of games will provide plenty of information on how the side’s will fare in 2013/14 season.

Leinster Men’s Division Two: Suttonians vs Weston, 3pm, Sutton Park; Kilkenny vs Avoca, 1pm, Kilkenny College; Monkstown II vs Clontarf, 1.30pm, Rathdown School, Pembroke Wanderers II vs Three Rock Rovers II, 3.30pm, Serpentine Avenue

Brief lowdown on the division two runners and riders (* apologies in advance of any complaints; the nature of the new league made a fuller preview impractical)

Avoca – relegated from division one last season, the timing of their drop back into division two is a tough one to take. Nonetheless, Mark Cullen has quite a young deck to pick from with plenty of promise. The likes of Jonathan Cummins, Johnny Byrnes (both from Monkstown) and Jack Walsh (Pembroke) have been added via their Newpark connections though the latter will miss much of the early season following an injury sustained in the Neville Davin Cup.

Andrew Ramsay, Ziggy Agnew and Richard Couse add to the youthful nature of the side, one in which Rob Pearson continues to be one of the main leaders. Last weekend saw them close out their preparations with a 6-2 win over Monkstown II while they also reached the final of the Neville Davin Cup, showing they are in decent shape.

Clontarf – Neville Davin Cup winners, the Mount Temple side are continuing to blend their youth section with the knowledge of player-coach Gareth Borland, Ciaran McNamara, Stephen Cairns and Tom Noonan. Rob Kelly’s move to Fingal is a loss in midfield but they do have one of the division’s most promising players in Kevin Mullins. The Irish U-18 shows an assured hand either in midfield or sinking into a back five during the outletting phase. Borland’s strong drag-flick gives them corner ability and they are a well-organised outfit across the pitch with a high intensity that should serve them well.

DSC_8178Dublin University – The natural life cycle of college hockey has seen some of their big players move on with Steven Roberts, Niall Noonan and Stu Malcolm moving on. With Steven Nolan and Cian Booth on Erasmus and Falk Mahdi returning to Holland, they have their squad further clipped. Confirmed as in are goalkeeper Thilo Becker from Three Rock and Geoff Garrett from Pembroke. Like UCD in division one, they have found it tough to get everyone back and training until recently with the need to work right up to the start of the season, limiting preseason training. With freshers week still to come, Simon Filgas has probably not completed his final roster but slow starts have regularly afflicted the club in the past five years and are a worry in the new format.

Kilkenny – The cats improved dramatically over the course of the 2012/13 after a tough start to their return to the division, so much so that they managed to turn over Rathgar in the Neville Davin Cup final. It owed a lot to the return of some of their alumni with Brian Gray, Billy McEnery and Derek O’Gorman. Getting them on the pitch as regularly as possible will tie in with their overall fortunes. Keeping the talismanic David Quinn will also have a big effect. He played a big part in the re-emergence of Waterford hockey club last season, doubling that with travelling up to Kilkenny.

Suttonians – Conor Gillett’s hockey sabbatical is probably the main squad news as the sharp-shooter takes a break from the game for the time-being. In his stead, their Dutch contingent has risen to two with Sander van Prooijen joining Eise Lodewijk on the Howth peninsula. Spaniard Asier Imaz also adds to the panel, arriving at Sutton Park this year. On the debit side, goalkeeper Andrew Ricci moves over to Fingal but Suttonians do have one of the league’s top stoppers in James Murtagh. In preseason, they defeated Weston twice and lost to Fingal.

TRR II – An eye-catching win over Monkstown’s first team in the Super Cup last weekend, albeit one shy of a number of top stars, was countered by losses to Annadale (3-1), Corinthian (2-0) and Belfast Harlequins (3-2). Andy Macken takes over from Stephen Findlater to captain a reasonably settled side that has built over the last three seasons after a wholescale turnover of players. With added adult experience, they improved from eighth to fourth in the last season and

Pembroke II – the large growth of their first team squad with numerous players coming from Cork and Fingal will naturally see a number will filter into an already decent second eleven section that is coached by Justin Sherriff to help them cope with the new demands of division two.

DSC_7800Monkstown II – The reigning Irish Junior Cup champions have had a few players move on with Craig Ellis moving to Fingal and Aaron Bailey going to YMCA but they have a large panel to be able to cope with those moves. St Andrew’s student Jamie Carr impressed during the Super Cup for Town’s firsts but will probably be in the second team when David Fitzgerald is back in action. As mentioned in the division one preview, Jazze Henry and David Nolan could be among a couple of young players to move up a team but can be big performers at this level.

YMCA II – The division three champions of 2012/13, the Y have been a close-knit unit for the past number of seasons, usually overseen by the likes of Graham Harris and Warwick Armstrong. With their first team losing four top players, the accordion-effect could see players moving up into the first team squad.

Weston – With Alan Browne returning to Glenanne, Brian Scully takes over the coaching job at Griffeen Valley Park where he will assisted by Rowland Rixon-Fuller. The aim will be to continue to incorporate King’s Hospital students Chris Cole, Adam Clayton and Michael Begley into the first team squad. Carl Goodwin’s availability could be limited following his invitation to be part of the Darren Clarke golf academy in Portrush but otherwise the squad is reasonably settled with Enda Tucker and Davitt Meenaghan among their leaders. The Neville Davin competition proved a fruitful outing for the new coach to assess his panel, albeit in a narrow loss to Avoca and a draw with Monkstown II.

Men's Leinster Senior Div 2