Down to the wire as six sides chase semi spots

ALL four men’s semi-final places are still up for grabs as the pool stages of the inaugural Irish Hockey League look set to reach a dramatic conclusion tomorrow.

Hit-off times have been streamlined for each pool, and with six teams mathematically in contention for the coveted four spots — the curveball of bonus points and goal difference are also in the mix — the permutations are practically endless.

Just three points separate as many teams in each pool, with four points potentially on the table in every game.

The marquee clash in Pool B (all games 3.30pm) comes at Grange Road, where table-toppers Cork Church of Ireland meet second-placed Three Rock Rovers, who are a point behind. A draw will be enough for C of I, while the other side in contention is Banbridge, who have the same win/loss ratio as the top two but are three points behind due to an inability to accrue a single bonus point so far.

Only a win against an in-form Monkstown at Havelock Park will do for them, then they must hope things go their way in Dublin. Lisnagarvey’s meeting with Fingal is academic, bar probably deciding the wooden spoon.

Things are similarly opaque in Pool A (all games 3pm), where Annadale’s 4-0 win at Cookstown on Tuesday has put them in the driving seat.

The ‘Dale are the only unbeaten side left in the competition, and head to Serpentine Avenue hoping to reduce third-placed Pembroke Wanderers — who must win to keep themselves in the mix — to IHL also-rans.

Second-placed Glens welcome Cookstown to St Mark’s knowing that they must match Pembroke’s result to advance. Cookstown and Instonians — who travel to winless Cork Harlequins — are both out of contention.

In the women’s competition, Leinster duo Hermes and Loreto are in the box seats as both have four-point leads at the top of their respective pools.

Pool A is a three-horse race: Loreto lead the way on 15 points with Railway Union and Pegasus four behind.

Loreto travel to second-placed Railway, while Pegs host Cork C of I. The Belfast girls will go through if they better Railway’s result, while the only way Loreto can falter is if the other two claim bonus-point wins and Pegs make up the goal difference. Both games will hit off at 5.30pm.

Pool B (all games 1pm) has four teams in with a shout, though Hermes — four points ahead of Ballymoney with UCD and Cork Harlequins a point back — are already through.

UCD and Quins will nonetheless be looking for a favour from the Booterstown outfit, who can reignite both sides’ chances provided they avoid defeat at home to ‘Money.

Quins have the easier task on paper, hosting basement side Armagh, who are coachless and have had a rotten 2008-9. The Cork side must improve on UCD’s showing away to Pembroke to stand any chance. However, should ‘Money manage to chalk up a bonus-point win, they will join Hermes in the last four and render the other results academic.

Domestically, Belvedere must beat Catholic Institute at home to avoid the drop in the Munster women’s league, while UCC go in search of the second part of a potential treble as they head to Limerick for the Examiner Cup final against Institute.

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