Harlequins aiming to knock Lisnagarvey off their perch

LISNAGARVEY, favourites to win the Irish Senior Hockey Cup in Belfield today (2.30 pm), were yesterday described by Harlequins’ coach, Stephen Jackson, as the “aristocrats of Irish hockey”.

Such praise is a measure of Harlequins' respect for opponents who have won the cup a record 21 times.

The Northerners virtually owned the trophy in the 1990s when they won it five times in a row and their failure to win it since 1997 is a huge disappointment to them and a major source of determination.

Harlequins' motivation comes principally from the ambition to win the oldest trophy in world hockey for the first time in their history.

Twice before they failed in the final, when they lost to Lisnagarvey in 1991 and to Instonians on their own pitch in Cork in 1995.

Coach Jackson's description of Lisnagarvey's status in Irish hockey is symptomatic of an attitude that should stand to Harlequins' benefit provided it is kept in context.

Their prospects would not be helped if they were to accord them too much respect.

There is little prospect of that happening for Jackson is an experienced coach, successful at this level in the past and well familiar with hockey in the North where he coached for several years.

He coached Cork C of I when they won the Cup in 1999 and yesterday said: "There is really no pressure for myself because of this but I do feel pressure for Harlequins because they have never won the Cup and I know how desperately they want to succeed."

Just a short couple of weeks ago Harlequins were luxuriating in the possibility of winning both Irish senior cups, for men and for women.

The double was last achieved in 1973 by Pembroke Wanderers but Harlequins' hopes were dashed when their ladies' team was beaten by Loreto.

Still club members have enjoyed much success in recent years for the ladies have won their senior cup and the men last season won the All-Ireland club championship, a competition that does not rank as highly as the Cup but is of considerable importance because the winners go on to compete in Europe.

Said Jackson: "Harlequins' win last season broke the hoodoo of never having won a senior trophy at national level with the men's team so that should stand to us.

"Lisnagarvey will be difficult to beat because they have a very strong panel of players and they are well coached. But then Harlequins have the players with the ability to win this."

A number of Harlequins' players were this week battling to shake off the effects of 'flu Morten Pedersen, Wesley Bateman and Dave Lombard while John Aherne and Philip Chambers have recently overcome injuries.

Coach Jackson will have a full panel of players to choose from, however, for the first time this season.

Lisnagarvey go into the game as firm favourites for coach Peter McCabe has built a relatively young team full of talented players.

In Mark Raphael a son of Ian, one of the former greats of Irish hockey and Earl Lutton they have very influential players while the experienced former international Lee Tumilty will organise a typically obdurate.

Ulster defence. Harlequins have waited impatiently for six weeks since the semi-finals and their form has suffered because of this.

They survived three traumatic Cup matches to get this far, beating Pembroke, Annadale, who were pre-tournament favourites, and Corinthians in penalty shoot-outs.

Lisnagarvey's progress was more smooth and their confidence of overcoming Harlequins was undoubtedly boosted by their efficient defeat of Cork C of I in the semi-final.

Earlier they had knocked out Aer Lingus and the Cup holders, Instonians.

They will be favoured by the water-based playing surface at Belfield because it is similar to their own while Harlequins must adapt as their synthetic surface in Cork is sand-based.

The four current Irish internationals in their squad Wesley Bateman, Jason Black, Sean Nicholson and Paul Lombard will be well familiar with this pitch, however, and Jackson had the entire squad on the pitch yesterday for an intensive training session.

Harlequins' lost the Munster Senior League last week when beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Cork C of I after the teams had drawn 2-2 after extra time.

C of I won the shoot-out 2-0 as Harlequins failed to beat goalkeeper Mark Ruddle in four attempts and this was surely a sign of pre-Cup final tension given their heroics from the penalty spot in the Cup.

The experience gained by coach Jackson and by goalkeeper Bateman and defender John Hobbs in helping C of I win this trophy four years ago will be a help in overcoming this.

It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to win what is certain to be a tight contest, so tight that it will probably be won by the team making best use of their penalty corner awards.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up