Road trips are the order of the day for Leinster’s primary contenders on Saturday in the men’s Irish Hockey League as Pembroke, Monkstown and Three Rock Rovers all travel out of province for tough ties.
Of the three, Rovers are the one side who are guaranteed to go through this weekend if they secure a victory but they have a huge task in front of them – Lisnagarvey at Comber Road.Since the inception of the IHL, this has been a marquee game on a number of occasions but both sides face this tie with fresh faces. For Rovers, Mick Maguire’s departure to Singapore allied to Peter McConnell and Alan Bothwell’s move to the second team and regular injuries to Joe Brennan have seen the side introduce numerous younger faces.
The emergence of Ben McCrea, Luke Madeley, Daragh Walsh and Jonny McCormack along with the addition of David Kane has given the side a very fresh look while remaining competitive.
After back-to-back Leinster league wins, they welcome back Mitch Darling and Jonny Bruton while Peter Blakeney has been in red hot form since the turn of the year with seven goals in three games.
Garvey have little by way of a form guide of late after a spate of postponements. They last played two weeks ago, beating Kilkeel 7-0, a week after a surprise home defeat in the Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals against Cork C of I.
Garvey should be at full strength apart from Richard Arneill who suffered a badly injured finger in the fateful game against Cork and could miss the rest of the season. Should they win the tie, they will have a chance to avenge that result in the final round of matches in order to advance.
Jonathan Bell and James Lorimer are back in Ireland for them after international duty in South Africa.
Elsewhere in Pool B, Banbridge travel to Railway Union where they can strenghten their position in the group. They have Irish internationals Drew Carlisle, Stevie Dowds, Bruce McCandless and Eugene Magee back in the fold.
It is a tricky away day but Bann have only one draw on an otherwise perfect record across all competitions, making for a tough day for Railway Union with Simon Thornton and Kenny Carroll needing to be on top form if they are to hold the Co Down visitors at bay. UCD host Cork C of I in the group’s other game.
In Pool A, Monkstown travel to UCC for the first time in the IHL where a win will put them on the brink of making it through. Indeed, they could be through as of Saturday evening if Annadale draw with Pembroke.
For Town, they look in great form going forward with goals coming from plenty of different angles. Gareth Watkins has seven goals in four while Davy Carson has scored four in his last three games in Leinster with the Rathdown club amassing 19 goals in four outings since the turn of the year. David Fitzgerald in goal and Peter Caruth up top return.
Pembroke’s journey to Annadale is a critical one. Dale lie fourth in the group and will look to the Edgar brother John and William along with Michael Robson to lead their charge against Paddy Conlon’s side.
Despite missing a spell through suspension, Nick Burns has been ruthless in front of goal and is their top scorer, returning with a couple since making his comeback. Cillian Hynes has taken a more central role with several goals while Mark Ingram’s return between the posts gives them even more strength at the back.
Instonians have a tough trip to Cookstown to maintain their push for a semi-final. The former are tied in second of the group with Pembroke and will hope a win gives them the edge when they meet the Dublin 4 side in March.
All know that if they can secure a semi-final berth from the IHL, they will be remaining in Dublin for the finals weekend with the news that Grange Road will host for the fourth time on April 11 and 12.It could potentially double up with the IHL wildcard playoffs which has already been shifted from March 13-15. The reason for the change of date is the widespread weather postponements up north which have seen some teams yet to complete the first half of their domestic league.
Indeed, Lisnagarvey have only completed eight league games out of 18 at this stage. Fifth place in Leinster and Ulster will go into this playoff along with Munster’s second placed finishers. When the wildcard gets played, though, is dependent on who qualifies and whether or not they are also involved in the IHL finals.
In Leinster men’s division one, Glenanne moved back into a share of third place with Three Rock Rovers after their 4-1 win over Rathgar on Thursday night in Rathgar.
They trailed early on but Rowland Rixon-Fuller equalised from a corner rebound after Stephen Brownlow smacked the bar. Clive Kennedy put the Glens ahead at half-time and Paddy Gahan and Gary Shaw made the game safe in the second half.
In division two, there is a make or break tie at 11am on Saturday morning with the winners of Three Rock Rovers II and Monkstown II likely to be in pole position to land the title.
Rovers’ hopes of moving five points clear in midweek were frozen out on Tuesday evening with their match against Corinthian II pushed back for a second time.
Irish Hockey League (all Saturday)
Pool A: UCC v Monkstown, 1pm, The Mardyke; Annadale v Pembroke, 2.30pm, Lough Moss; Cookstown v Instonians, 2.30pm, Steelweld Park
Pool B: Railway Union v Banbridge, 2.30pm, Park Avenue; Lisnagarvey v Three Rock Rovers, 2.45pm, Comber Road; UCD v Cork C of I, 2.45pm, Belfield
Leinster Division One
Thursday: Rathgar 1 Glenanne 4 (R Rixon-Fuller, C Kennedy, P Gahan, G Shaw)
Division Two: Railway Union II v Fingal, 4.15pm, Park Avenue; Three Rock Rovers II v Monkstown II, 11am, Grange Road; Pembroke II v Corinthian II, 12.30pm, Serpentine Avenue; YMCA II v Clontarf, 1.30pm, Milltown
Irish Hockey Challenge, quarter-final: Armagh v Naas, 1pm, Ardmore; Bray v Dublin University, 1.30pm, Loreto Bray; Weston v Ballymena, 2pm, Griffeen Valley Park; Portrane v Mullingar, 3pm, ALSAA