Monkstown in touching distance; IHL debate in Ulster sees vice-chairman resign

Barring a huge upset, Monkstown will be crowned Leinster division one champions on Saturday evening as they need just a point against basement side Rathgar.

If they can do that, it will be merited as the stand-out side this season, scoring 25 more goals so far than their nearest rivals at an average of over four a game.

Richard Sykes has led the Monkstown free-scoring vanguard Pic: Adrian Boehm

Richard Sykes has led the Monkstown free-scoring vanguard Pic: Adrian Boehm

It has been a dominant retention bid from Graham Shaw’s side with the only glitch on their loss column a mad Sunday against Pembroke, losing their composure when numerical advantage was hugely in their favour.

For Rathgar, meanwhile, there could yet be some importance to the remaining ties in the Leinster league with rumblings in Ulster over the proposed Irish Hockey League still rolling on.

Should something happen to scupper the introduction of the expanded IHL, it would mean business as usual in the promotion/relegation shake-up. To avoid any such issues, the bootboys – along with Rathgar and UCD – will be keen to tack on a win in the closing rounds of matches.

During the week, Ulster Hockey’s vice-chairman of the management board Stuart MacDonnell – a strong supporter of the IHL – resigned, saying in the Belfast Telegraph “the direction of travel in recent months is not destined for a place in the best interest of hockey, its players or clubs”.

In addition, he felt the argument for and against the IHL, voted for by 87% of clubs who attended the EGM over its introduction earlier this season, has lost sight of the primary concerns.

“Legitimate issues about the IHL regarding affordability, logistics of travel, availability of school players etc. have been raised within the hockey family, though I believe with some creative thought all of these can be solved.

“More recently, I feel, rather than addressing these valid issues, we have spent too much time looking for loopholes in governance in order to thwart the current IHL model.

“I also fear there may become a connection between the IHL discussions and the notion in some circles of ‘going it alone’.”

The Chiefs will be without Jonny Orr and Stu Cinnamond so Niall Noonan captains in their absence while Graham O’Neill and Cian Speers come in against their former club.

The other key game in Leinster is Railway Union’s game against YMCA. Whoever loses will more than likely be out of the race for an automatic Irish Hockey League place, should all go to plan, while a draw could see both miss out.

Avoca and Rathgar could need a win late in the season to avoid a playoff if IHL plans change Pic: Adrian Boehm

Avoca and Rathgar could need a win late in the season to avoid a playoff if IHL plans change Pic: Adrian Boehm

The absence of Peter English might have cost Railway all the points at Grange Road last week as they let slide a string of corners, including four on the final whistle – though they did score one and have another contentiously disallowed.

Any more profligacy could cost them dear though they did bounce back in midweek with a thumping win over UCD with Rob Abbott scoring four times.

Beating Railway in December kick-started YMCA’s run of form after an indifferent start to the campaign, losing four of their first seven games in the league. But, with so many arrivals, it was always going to take a while to gel and they now look a strong outfit.

Victories over Pembroke and Three Rock along with wafer-thin losses to Monkstown and Glenanne show their credentials with Thom Ritchie in a rich seem of form in front of goal and Iain Walker in suitably spectacular form between the posts.

Glenanne will anticipate shutting down another of the Irish Hockey League places when they travel to Avoca, having lost just once since September. It has been a hugely impressive campaign for Alan Browne’s side, improving vastly from last term when they were six points off the top four.

That has come in spite of lengthy injuries to Gary Shaw, Eddie O’Malley and Rowland Rixon-Fuller. Stephen Brownlow has been superb and is one to watch for his former club while Sam O’Connor and Neil Byrne continue to grow in stature.

Rovers will hope that UCD do not smash and grab a result at Belfield as they did before Christmas when they struck at the death at Grange Road to nick a draw. Pembroke face a Corinthian side already destined for seventh place in the division come what may.

Kevin Mullins, centre, and brother John, left, added more goals on Thursday Pic: Deryck Vincent

Kevin Mullins, centre, and brother John, left, added more goals on Thursday Pic: Deryck Vincent

In division two, Clontarf moved top of the table thanks to a 3-1 win over Fingal with the Mullins boys at it again, John scoring two and Kevin getting the other on Thursday evening.

It was their fifth straight win and they will hope to make it six on Saturday when they travel to Kilkenny. For them, the important thing is finishing clear as the top first team, something they have now achieved, to guarantee at least a playoff for promotion to division one should the expanded Irish Hockey League not take shape.

The chasing pack have plenty of games in hand with Monkstown II facing a pivotal tie against Pembroke II. Win that and it is very hard to see them miss out on winning the league to match their first team’s impending success.

Men’s Leinster Division One (Saturday): Avoca v Glenanne, 12.30pm, Newpark; Corinthian v Pembroke, 12.45pm, Whitechurch Park; Railway Union v YMCA, 12.45pm, Park Avenue; UCD v Three Rock Rovers, 1pm, Belfield; Monkstown v Rathgar, 4.30pm, Rathdown

Division Two
Clontarf 3 (John Mullins 2, Kevin Mullins 1) Fingal 1
Saturday fixtures: Three Rock Rovers v Railway Union, 11am, Grange Road; YMCA v Fingal, 1.30pm, Milltown; Monkstown v Pembroke, 2.30pm, Rathdown; Kilkenny v Clontarf, 2.30pm, Kilkenny College

Men's Leinster Senior Div 1