After almost a three month break for the World Cup and virtually a full day’s further fixtures lost to the weather, it’s a case of making up for lost time as the action continues to come thick and fast with a double header for seven of the men’s EYHL teams this weekend.
There’s a full programme of EYHL fixtures on Saturday followed by the Irish Senior Cup quarter finals on Sunday.
League leaders Banbridge will be confident of consolidating their position when they travel to Dublin to face YMCA, who got their first win only last weekend when they beat Cookstown. The biggest game on the list is at Comber Road where ever-improving Lisnagarvey tackle Champions Trophy holders Three Rock Rovers.
Annadale will be aiming to bounce back from last week’s 5-1 loss to Monkstown when they host Cork C of I while Cookstown host Town, as the Tyrone team attempt to get off the bottom.
In the Cup on Sunday, Bann face Rovers, Cookstown host C of I, Garvey are up against Pembroke while Kilkeel play Glenanne with all four Ulster sides at home. Kilkeel are the only non-EYHL team in the last eight and they gave themselves a shot in the arm ahead of Sunday’s game during the week.
The defending champions stay top of the Ulster Premier League following a 7-4 win over North Down in Comber. Gareth McKeown’s hat-trick for the home side was all in vain as Kilkeel ran out comfortable winners with Mark Stevenson and William Annett each scoring twice and the other goals coming from David Finlay, Luke Russell and Eddie Agnew.
It remains the same at the top, with Instonians just two points off the pace, with a game in hand, following a 4-2 win over Mossley on Thursday when Mikey Watt (2), William Robinson and Stephen Kelso scored for the Belfast side.
Four Ulster teams are in Irish Junior Cup action on Saturday while NICS face North Down in an all-Ulster Irish Hockey Trophy semi-final on Sunday.
Meanwhile, on the women’s front, there are no EYHL fixtures on Saturday due to Ireland training, so the focus of attention will be on the Ulster Premier League. However, Loreto beat Railway Union 3-2 in Dublin on Thursday night to move three points ahead of Pegasus at the top of the table.
The big game locally on Saturday sees leaders Ballymoney take on unbeaten Queen’s at the Joey Dunlop Centre where the students will be attempting to close the gap at the top of the table. Lurgan have a tough one as they bid for a fourth consecutive title as they host a Lisnagarvey side that pushed Ballymoney all the way last week, before going down 1-0.
The other top flight game sees Dungannon entertaining Ulster Elks, who have lost just once in their last 10 league outings. There is one Ulster Premier game down for decision on Friday night as Mossley take on Ballymena, meaning ex-Braid coach Davy Allen will be up against his former charges.
In Senior One, Raphoe can extend their lead at the summit if they can beat North Down. In the Irish Junior Cup, the two Ulster sides could yet meet in the final as Garvey II travel to Loreto while Pegasus II are away to Old Alex II.
Meanwhile, several Ards players are eyeing a return trip to the continent on a bigger stage than usual next year, despite the club’s failure to retain the Irish indoor title a few weeks ago.
It will be newly crowned national champions Railway Union who travel to the EuroHockey Challenge tournament after Ards did themselves proud by finishing fifth in the corresponding event in France last weekend. However, the club competition isn’t the only indoor showpiece next year as Ireland have entered a team into the European Nations Cup, which takes place in Bratislava next January.
It will be the first time for over 30 years that Ireland will participate in the showpiece, after the governing body controversially decided to withdraw the national team from the tournament in the 1980s. With Railway, this year, and Ards in the previous seven, well ahead of the rest of the Irish sides, having dominated the club scene, it seems certain they will make up the bulk of the Ireland team for the trip to Slovakia.
Ireland will be competing in Europe’s third tier, having had to start at the bottom but should have a decent chance of earning promotion on their return to the national arena. Ards player-coach Naomi Grundie would love to have the opportunity to represent her country on the international stage next year and she is likely to be joined by several club mates.
She said: “It is definitely an exciting and pleasing development from Irish Hockey to re-enter the national indoor team into the Europeans and a huge incentive for players on the indoor scene.”
“I, for one, would love to play for Ireland next year, if selected, of course.”
Grundie could well get her wish as none of the current Irish outdoor internationals play indoor hockey with the exception of Chloe Brown. Former Ards player Brown would be one of the first names on the Ireland team sheet as the best indoor player in the country, having recently helped East Grinstead lift the English title. Grundie had mixed emotions after the weekend trip to France, where Ards lost only one of their five matches but missed out on the chance of a medal in a tournament of fine margins.
The 31-year-old added: “We lost narrowly in our opening game against Lisbon and that was really disappointing because it ultimately cost us a spot in the promotion pool.”
“We had a tougher group initially which was difficult but our performances got better, drawing with the Turks and Slovakians and beating the Welsh and Slovenians.”
“Finishing fifth was tough to take considering we only lost one game but it was a really positive squad experience and the first Europeans for three players, including two schoolgirls, which was fabulous, so the future is still bright.”
Ulster Premier League: Mossley v Ballymena (7pm)
Ulster Premier League: Ballymoney v Queen’s (2.30pm); Dungannon v Ulster Elks (2.30pm); Lurgan v Lisnagarvey (2.30pm);
Senior One: Castle v Club KV (1pm); Coleraine v Armagh; Priorians v Portadown (2.30pm); Raphoe v North Down
Irish Junior Cup Quarter finals: Loreto II v Lisnagarvey II (3pm); Old Alex II v Pegasus II (3pm)
EYHL: Old Alex v Muckross (2.30pm)
EYHL: Lisnagarvey v Three Rock Rovers (3pm; Dublin YMCA v Banbridge (2.15pm); Annadale v Cork C of I (2.30pm); Cookstown v Monkstown (2.30pm); Pembroke v Glenanne (2.30pm).
Ulster Premier League A: Newry v Bangor (2.30pm).
Ulster Premier League B: Portadown v Antrim (1pm); Queen’s v Raphoe (2.30pm).
Irish Junior Cup Quarter-finals: Banbridge II v Three Rock II (2.30pm); Glenanne II v Lisnagarvey II (3pm); Monkstown II v Belfast Harlequins II (2pm); Dublin YMCA II v Instonians II (4pm).
Intermediate League: Armagh v Saintfield (1pm); Ballynahinch v Parkview (4pm); CI v Portrush (2.30pm); PSNI v Ballymena (2.30pm).
Irish Senior Cup Quarter-finals: Banbridge v Three Rock (2.30pm); Cookstown v Cork C of I (1pm); Kilkeel v Glenanne (1pm); Lisnagarvey v Pembroke Wanderers (3pm).
Irish Hockey Trophy Semi-finals: Civil Service v North Down (3.30pm); Rathgar v Waterford (1pm).