Havelock Park is the place to be on Saturday with two top class fixtures in two different competitions with Banbridge Academy and Friends’ providing the curtain raiser in an intriguing John Minnis Estate Agents Burney Cup first round tie (10.30am).
Friends’ are the cup holders but Bann proved their undoubted ability by reaching the all Ireland schoolboy championship final before Christmas. Since then, they have drawn with Wallace High – who beat Friends’ in the McCullough Cup final in December – so a close encounter is anticipated. Several of the Academy players will then scarcely have time to catch their breath before lining out for Banbridge against Pembroke Wanderers as the EYHL resumes after a two-month break.
Bann are currently in second place in the table, trailing Glenanne only on goal difference but Mark Tumilty’s side have a game in hand. Pembroke are also level on 15 points with Banbridge so it should be a close contest with Tumilty being able to welcome back Ireland star Eugene Magee from injury. The 32-year-old damaged his hand but managed to play through the pain barrier with Ireland at the World Cup in India.
Lisnagarvey, who are 6 points off the pace, have a tough trip to Dublin to face leaders Glenanne and would probably be happy to return home with a point. Annadale have a big chance to edge closer to safety as they prepare to host basement side Dublin YMCA at Strathearn. Third-bottom Cookstown have a mammoth task on their hands as they face Champions Trophy holders Three Rock Rovers at Steelweld Park.
“We’ve three seriously tough matches coming up and we need to be at it right from the whistle,” said Cookstown’s top scorer Stuart Smyth.
“There’s no harder team than Three Rock but we’ll go out on Saturday with the right attitude, with a bit of confidence and looking for precious points.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Premier League champions Kilkeel, whose Anderson Cup game with Annadale bit the dust due to frost midweek, have an important game away to Bangor. North Down are at home to Newry Olympic while Division A leaders Instonians travel to Lisburn to take on South Antrim.
There are also three Division B games down for decision, with Portadown facing relegated Antrim while NICS host Belfast Harlequins and Queen’s entertain Raphoe.
On the women’s front, the weather could also intervene but Ireland’s internationals with Spain are sure to go ahead in the sunnier climes of Murcia.
One player who will have a spring in her step will be former Ards striker Chloe Brown, who had a superb few days after lifting her first trophy with East Grinstead just 72 hours after learning of her recall to the Ireland squad. The 24-year-old was a member of the Sussex outfit’s indoor team which lifted the Super Sixes English title on Sunday in London. East Grinstead crushed Buckingham 10-2 in the final watched by 5,000 spectators and a live television audience.
Brown played virtually the entire 40 minutes after earlier helping her new club beat the holders Bowden-Hightown in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw in the semi-finals. On the same day as Brown was celebrating her first winner’s medal with East Grinstead, Ards’ seven year success run in the Irish indoor championship came to an end with a 6-1 loss to Railway Union in the final.
Brown played a significant role in her former club’s previous triumphs and scored more than 50 goals in six European Championships. Now though, she can’t wait to play for East Grinstead on the continent next year while Ards will be staying at home with the Dublin side taking their place.
Brown said: “I am loving life in England and I was delighted to be a part of the squad for the Super Sixes and I am now looking forward to playing in Europe next year with the club.”
“We had been working very hard in order to prepare fully for the finals day and we knew our semi-final would probably turn out to be our toughest match.”
To add to her joy, Brown has linked up with the Ireland squad for the first time in more than a year, after missing out even on the 29-strong World Cup training panel ahead of the trip to London. Ireland have three games against their hosts and two against India, both of whom they beat on the way to clinching the silver medals after their remarkable journey last August.
The games in Spain are part of the preparations for the upcoming Olympic qualifying cycle for Tokyo 2020. Brown will be doing all she can to grasp the opportunity, having yet to play in a major tournament for Ireland, despite winning 53 caps to date.
She added: “I’m looking forward to coming back into the national squad as I have been working very hard on becoming a better all round player and this is one of the main reasons why I decided to go and play in England.”
“It will be strange being back but ultimately its an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.”
Because of Ireland’s trip to Spain, the entire EY Irish Hockey League programme has been postponed, including Ards’ visit to Cork Harlequins and the local derby between Pegasus and Belfast Harlequins. But EYHL 2 is unaffected and Queen’s can take another step closer to the promotion play-offs if they can beat Greenfields in Galway on Saturday while Lurgan are away to Monkstown.
At domestic level, Ballymoney can leapfrog Lurgan and go top if they can overcome Mossley at the Glade on Friday night,. On Saturday, Banbridge host Ballymena, Garvey are at home to Randalstown and Ulster Elks travel to Rainey.
International: Spain v Ireland (4.30pm)
Ulster Premier League
20:30 Mossley v Ballymoney @ Mossley HC
Ulster Senior 1
19:30 Portadown v Omagh @ Edenvilla SC
JMEA Burney Cup first round:
10:30 Banbridge Academy v Friends’@ Havelock Park
EY Hockey League – Round 9
14:30 Annadale v YMCA @ Strathearn School
14:30 Banbridge v Pembroke Wanderers @ Havelock Park
14:30 Cookstown v Three Rock Rovers @ Cookstown H.S.
14:45 Glenanne v Lisnagarvey @ St. Andrews College, Booterstown
14:15 Monkstown v Cork Church of Ireland@ The Merrion Fleet Arena, Monkstown
Ulster Premier League Division A
14:30 Bangor v Kilkeel @ Bangor Aurora
14:30 North Down v Newry @ Comber LC
14:45 South Antrim v Instonians @ Friends Sch.
Ulster Premier League Division B
13:00 N.I. Civil Service v Belfast Harlequins @ NICS, Stormont
13:00 Portadown v Antrim @ Edenvilla SC
14:30 Queens University v Raphoe @ Malone Playing Fields l
Men – Ulster Intermediate League
13:00 Ballymena v Armagh @ Ballymena Academy
PSNI v Portrush @ NICS, Stormont
14:30 Saintfield v CI @ Saintfield Cricket Club
EYHL 2 – Round 6 – Pool 1
13:15 Corinthians v Trinity@ St. Columba’s College, Kilmashogue Lane, Rathfarnham, Dublin
14:20 Greenfields v Queens University @ Dangan Sports Ground
EYHL 2 – Round 6 – Pool 2
13:00 Dungannon v NUIG @ Royal Sch.
16:00 Monkstown v Lurgan @ The Merrion Fleet Arena, Monkstown
Ulster Premier League
16:00 Banbridge v Ballymena @ Havelock Park
14:30 Lisnagarvey v Randalstown @ Lisnagarvey HC
16:00 Ulster Elks v Rainey @ Meadowbank Sports Arena
Ulster Senior 1
13:00 Castle v North Down @ Carrickfergus Ampthitheatre
13:00 CI v Raphoe @ CIYMS Sports Ground
16:00 Club KV v Coleraine @ Malone Playing Fields
14:30 Priorians v Armagh @ Foyle College
International: Spain v Ireland (10.30am)