Black hoping Quins will get it spot on this time

HARLEQUINS’ captain, Jason Black emphasised one of the most enduring facts of hockey life when he referred to the importance of Quins’ penalty corner routine ahead of their Irish Senior Cup final at Belfield on Sunday.

“It is so difficult to score goals from play that teams tend to concentrate on setting up penalty corners” he said. “When you get into the ‘D’ you always want to get something out of it and unless you have a clear shot at goal you will look for a corner.”

Black plays an important role in Harlequins’ corner routine for he is responsible for the ‘drag-flick’ from the deadball line. Once the ball is then controlled at the top of the ‘D’ Harlequins have a variety of ruses to wrong foot the defence with David Eakins and John Hobbs amongst their most regular shot-takers.

Said Black: “You will probably see on Sunday that both sides will be playing for corners. So many matches nowadays are decided on penalty corners, you will not succeed unless you have developed good routines.”

Harlequins have never won the Irish Senior Cup and their quest for their first triumph represents a desire so strong that Black cannot bear the thought of coming up short this year, as they did when they were beaten 12 months ago by Lisnagarvey.

“This will be my third senior cup final” he said, “so, hopefully, it will be third time lucky. We will be going in as under-dogs, that much is certain and I’m glad because we never seem to play to our best when we are favourites.”

The fact that they were losing finalists last year suggests that it is Harlequins who should be rated favourites but Black explained: “Teams from the North are generally regarded as stronger, you will find that Munster sides are not rated as highly.”

Cork C of I won this Cup in 1999 and before then you have to go back 30 years to when C of I won three-in-a-row from 1967 for a previous Munster win.

Harlequins have recently won a new respect for Munster: “Winning in Belfast against NICS in the semi-final and our wins over Annadale and Lisnagarvey in recent years mean they will probably take us a lot more seriously now. They will probably study to see what we do.”

One of the considerations that have hindered Munster teams in the past is the type of playing surface they have encountered outside of Munster. The best pitches in the North and in Dublin are water-based while Munster pitches are sand-based.

The pitch at hockey headquarters in Belfield was heavy with water for last year’s final and could not have been comfortable for Harlequins. Black is hoping it will be different this Sunday.

He said: “The pitch at Belfield is older and it depends on how much water they put on it, they sometimes tend to flood it. They have got a new watering system so it should be better this time. Last year they had some problem with the drainage but most of us are now well used to playing on water-based pitches.”

That is certainly true for Harlequins’ Irish players - Jason and Mark Black, Wesley Bateman, John Hobbs, David Eakins, Paul Lombard - but Harlequins' younger players may not be that familiar with the surface.

Black, who is 26 and has 59 international appearances behind him, reviewed Harlequins’ recent form and said: “In the last few games we have been disappointing. In the Munster Cup final against C of I when we lost on strokes and that was upsetting. We seem to be creating plenty of chances but scoring goals seems to be difficult. We are playing well up to the final quarter of the pitch and cannot seem to get it right from there.”

He is convinced, however, that the importance of the occasion will help Harlequins find their best form: “The Irish Senior Cup ranks top of the list with me. The Irish Cup is the oldest cup competition in Ireland, and it is just about the most prestigious trophy in hockey for us. It is one I would love to win.”

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