Friends reunited as new Ulster recruit Lynch set to face Munster

JASON LYNCH faces the novel prospect of lining out against former colleagues on his old stomping ground for the second time in a week, as he prepares to don the colours of Ulster at the senior hockey interprovincials at Garryduff in Cork this weekend.

Midfielder Lynch, who won his first Irish senior cap against France last summer, currently plays for Lisnagarvey, whom he joined from hometown club Cork C of I in 2007 upon entering Belfast Metropolitan College.

While Lynch turned out for Munster at both senior and U21 level last term, college commitments have led him to throw his hat in with Ulster this time around.

Lynch is satisfied he made the right call: “It was a hard call to make, head or heart, but at the end of the day the travel was too much. I’m nervous enough about it, but it’s all friendly banter — I’m sure I’ll get a bit of grief but I know I’ve made the right call.

“I’d love to have played with Munster but I’m looking forward to it anyway, it should be an interesting weekend. I was a bit intimidated at the start (playing for ‘Garvey against C of I) but once you get into the game it’s OK, I’d be friends with a lot of the lads who would be shouting stuff anyway. I just zone out and play my own game.”

Given the interpros perform the double function of an unofficial Irish trial, it is in Lynch’s interest to be taking part one way or another. Nonetheless, his Ulster side aren’t at full strength — Geoff McCabe is still working his way back to full fitness while David Ames is a major doubt with an elbow injury — and Leinster are favourites for the men’s title.

They possess some heavy goalscoring artillery in the form of Peter Blakeney, Alan Sothern, Mitch Darling and Stephen Butler, not to mention recent Irish call-up Gareth Watkins, who has hit 31 goals in 23 games this term despite not being a short-corner specialist. Co-coach Colin Stewart certainly pulls no punches about the confidence he has in his squad.

“It’s probably the most attacking squad I’ve seen in Irish interprovincial hockey. We played on Tuesday night and it was awesome. There’s a few things we need to sort out, obviously, with any team that gets together but they look fast and sharp up front.”

Regarding the opposition, Stewart added: “They’re all healthy otherwise they wouldn’t be there. I suppose Munster would be the underdogs considering last year but, you know, John Jermyn, Karl Burns, they’ve got class players. You can’t afford to let Jermyn have too many drag-flicks, let alone the guys from up north.”

The inclusion of brothers Conor and David Harte, who ply their trade in Dublin with Pembroke Wanderers, is a big boon for Stephen Jackson’s Munster side, giving them one of the strongest defences in the tournament on paper. However, they will miss the likes of Mark Black and Paul Lombard further up the pitch, where Leinster and Ulster are particularly well-served.

New Irish coach Paul Revington will be present to run the rule over his charges, but whether Ulster skipper Mark Gleghorne can be part of his plans remains to be seen. Gleghorne re-iterated this week that he is keeping his options open regarding his international future as he weighs up his future for both club and country — he has been on trial at a number of Dutch clubs and is examining the viability of a defection to Great Britain.

Things are harder to call in the women’s competition, though with the balance of power on the club scene currently in Leinster, Rudi Wortmann’s side may start as slight favourites. Just five remain from last year’s squad as the international contingent — unavailable last year due to Olympic qualification commitments — return to the fold, with experienced international Nikki Symmons named as skipper.

Munster look well-served in midfield, with the unpredictable genius of Áine Connery thrown in with the distribution skills of Hollie Moffett and skipper Deirdre Casey. However, with just three forwards named in a squad without the services of injured Irish skipper Eimear Cregan, Connery and vice-captain Julia O’Halloran may be deployed in more advanced roles.

The absence of some of Ulster’s more experienced luminaries, such as Bridget McKeever and Lynsey McVicker, means they travel with a very youthful squad. Connacht have pulled off a major coup in getting Pembroke goal machine Louisa Moore into their panel, and will be hopeful of springing a few surprises.

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