“No complacency’ but Pembroke eyeing title

THERE are dozens of intriguing sub-plots to be dissected as the Irish Hockey League’s (IHL) showpiece weekend gets underway tomorrow, but the question of who can stop the Pembroke Wanderers juggernaut is dominating the agenda.

Despite having to withstand an eligibility row over South African import Vaughan Erasmus, Craig Fulton’s side have been in irresistible form in recent weeks, annexing three trophies along the way.

Having hit five past Annadale en route to the IHL semi-finals, they subsequently repeated the trick against Monkstown to wrest the Leinster league back from Three Rock Rovers, who provide the opposition tomorrow at Grange Road (5pm).

Skipper Alan Giles insists they are guarding against complacency.

“You can get very complacent, especially if you’re consistently doing well,” he said. “You can sometimes forget that teams can turn you over; you can have bad spells but hopefully we’ll use it as a positive.”

By contrast, Rovers have won just one of their last five games, but are effectively champions having annexed the Club Championships in the old format last term, and also have the boon of home advantage and big-game experience in the EHL this term.

The winners of the other semi-final between Glenanne and Banbridge (3pm) will have a keener than usual eye on the other side of the draw.

In winning the ISC, Pembroke have secured one of Ireland’s two EuroHockey League slots for next season, the other of which goes to the IHL winners. Should they advance to the IHL final, it will mean their opposition are guaranteed the second spot.

Glenanne’s veteran Irish international Graham Shaw admits it adds an extra bit of spice to his side’s clash with Bann, Ulster’s sole representatives, but adds that they won’t be satisfied with anything but finishing top of the pile.

“We’re not looking ahead to the final,” he insisted. “We’re going out to win (against Bann) and if that gives us the European place then that’s fantastic, (but) we’re still confident enough that we’re going to win the whole thing.”

Cork Harlequins will look to past glories for inspiration when they get the weekend under way in the first women’s semi-final against Loreto (10.30am). The Beaufort side – who have arguably adapted best to the auto-pass rule introduced in this competition – came from three down to draw level the last time the sides met in an ISC third round tie in 2007.

But an Eimear Cregan golden goal set Quins on their way that day, and the Irish international skipper also had the final word in the 4-1 win over Armagh in March, getting the vital bonus-point that sealed their progression to the last four.

Old foes Hermes and Pegasus go toe-to-toe in the other semi-final (12.30pm), with Pegs’ Arlene Boyles admitting the Belfast giants won’t lack motivation following last year’s semi-final defeat to the Dubliners.

UCD won’t be involved in the IHL next season, however. They saw a Rosie Carrigan winner with 25 seconds to go chalked off in their final league game against Hermes on Wednesday night, and the 1-1 draw allowed Old Alex to take the wildcard playoff spot.

Alex will now square off against Cork C of I, Greenfields and Belfast Harlequins this weekend, as the quartet fight for a place in next season’s IHL.

Just one IHL place is up for grabs in the men’s wildcard playoff, with Lisnagarvey, Corinthians and Bandon battling it out for that spot.

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