With the IHA confirming in midweek that any proposed changes to the Irish Hockey League will not be introduced earlier than September 2015, it leaves the focus front and centre on the hockey this weekend as round two looks set to further unpick the men from the boys in this year’s competition.
In two of the key games, there is the strange sight of two pairs of brothers taking on each other as the Browns of Banbridge and UCD along with the Lynchs of Pembroke and Lisnagarvey face off in key ties in their respective groups.
In Pool B, Peter Brown’s UCD side travel back to his home club where they will face (what he told the Belfast Telegraph) “the noisiest crowd in Irish hockey”, knowing that they will not be cheering him on for the most part.“It will be strange playing against my former team-mates and in particular my brother Philip, who plays in defence whereas I’m in midfield. This will be the first time we’ve been in opposite camps, so we can expect a hard time against each other,” he added.
“There’s no doubt who our father will be cheering on – definitely Banbridge! But UCD need at least a draw if we are to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals.”
UCD made an initially assured start last week against reigning champions Monkstown before getting turned over too easily. With those opening day nerves off the table, it is another tough baptism to life on the highest stage but they will be hopeful of doing some damage.
For the Town, they will fancy their chances against an Annadale side in transition and still to formally claim a wildcard playoff game to qualify for next season. Corinthian play Cork C of I in the pool’s other game with both sides looking to get back on track.
The reds started with a good comeback draw against Annadale, striking twice in the second half but they will need to win against the likes of CI if they are to have any chance of ousting either Banbridge or Monkstown from the top two berths.
It is part of a busy period for Corinthian who face UCD on Tuesday night in the Mills Cup semi-final. The students were initially ejected from the competition due to their U-21 side’s withdrawal from their cup final on Christmas Eve. They successfully appealed the decision so that, while they will not play in the U-21 final, the sanctions did not spread to the Mills Cup.
In Pool A, just two weeks after they played out a thrilling Irish Senior Cup semi-final, Lisnagarvey and Pembroke meet once again. That time around, Pembroke shaded the tussle in extra time but know that they were pinned back for much of the second half by a Garvey side that looks set to win the Ulster Premier League.
Timmy Cockram scored an incredible eight times in midweek in a 12-1 demolition of Mossley. That pushed him past 50 goals for the season and, more significantly, pretty much wiped out Banbridge’s goal difference advantage at the top, a factor that looks set to be decisive in the final reckoning.
Whether that kind of contest will serve Garvey well in their lead up for what looks a very different prospect is another matter. Irish training panelist Maurice Elliott is back in the fold for Pembroke from the Senior Cup panel and adds an extra foil to the prolific Alan Sothern.
Lynch brothers Karl and Jason have another chance to claim family bragging rights. After the first series of games in the pool, this already looks to be a key tie in the final shake-up. Mark Raphael misses out for Garvey.For Cork Harlequins, the group already looks like a case of damage limitation following the biggest defeat in the history of the men’s Irish Hockey League last time out. Last weekend, they shipped 11 goals as they struggled to muster a full panel due to work commitments. How they will cope with the long journey up to Cookstown remains to be seen. The Co Tyrone side fell at the first hurdle against Pembroke but have plenty about them to suggest they will grab the spoils from this tie.
Instonians, meanwhile, host Three Rock needing a win to ignite their push for the semi-final places. Expect goals; last time they met, it ended 6-5 to Three Rock in the Irish Senior Cup last season. Rovers were without Huub de With and Ali Haughton last weekend, players who have a strong influence on the way Rovers play.
The Irish Hockey Trophy hits the quarter-final phase with three Leinster sides contesting this round. Avoca have a huge task ahead of them is they are to undo treble-chasing Newry but Mark Cullen’s young squad showed plenty of appetite for the fight this season and their strike force of Andrew Ramsay and Dante Tait mean they always have a chance.
Kilkenny host Clontarf in an all-Leinster tie off the back of a big Wright-Carey Cup win over Dublin University. This looks a really matched tie but if Derek O’Gorman hits his stride, the cats are a very tough prospect.
Fixtures (all Saturday)
Men’s Irish Hockey League round two
Pool A: Cookstown v Cork Harlequins, Steelweld Park, 2.30pm; Instonians v Three Rock Rovers, Shawsbridge, 2.40pm; Lisnagarvey v Pembroke Wanderers, Comber Road, 2.45pm
Pool B: Corinthian v Cork C of I, Whitechurch Park, 2.45pm; Monkstown v Annadale, Rathdown, 3pm; Banbridge v UCD, Havelock Park, 4.30pm.
Irish Hockey Trophy quarter-finals: Bandon v North Down, Bandon Grammar, 1pm; Kilkenny v Clontarf, Kilkenny College, 1pm; Portadown v Queens University, Portadown, 1pm; Newry v Avoca, Newry, 2.30pm.