O’Carroll cautious as champions close on title

They say you don’t win titles at Christmas — but if you’re Catholic Institute, you can certainly win them in January.

Not since the decade of domination by Cork Harlequins in the late 90s and early 2000s has a Munster league crown been up for grabs so early, but Institute can wrap it up before spring is in the air if they defeat second-placed Quins on home turf at Rosbrien tomorrow (12pm).

Three points would open up a 10-point gap over Quins with just nine more points up for grabs, meaning the Limerick side couldn’t be caught.

Despite a 100% record from eight games that has seen them hit 48 goals and concede just three, this is far from a foregone conclusion for Ger O’Carroll’s defending champions.

They needed a penalty stroke to see off Quins 1-0 in Cork before Christmas, and the ever-humble O’Carroll is not the kind of coach who will tolerate complacency.

Quins will bring with them a burning sense of injustice from the sides’ previous encounter, and the win-or-bust mentality should suit the likes of Karen Bateman, who is back among the goals since ending her first team retirement.

Elsewhere, Bandon and Ashton’s attention turns to national matters and round three of the Irish Hockey Trophy, a competition that yielded encouraging results for both sides last term.

Bandon welcome YMCA to West Cork fresh from their success over UL, hoping Ciara McCarthy can continue her fine goalscoring form — she netted a hat-trick against Avoca in round one.

Elsewhere, Ashton go west to take on Galwegian outfit Greenfields.

Meanwhile, Bandon’s men will be bracing themselves for a Catholic Institute onslaught when the sides meet at Rosbrien tomorrow (2pm) in a clash that has banana skin written all over it.

Institute have endured a miserable season of heavy defeats but are quietly hopeful that can take points off Stephen Jackson’s men, who will be gunning to make amends for dropping a point at home to Quins B a fortnight ago.

Bandon endured a bout of ‘circle fever’ in that game but if they can work Ali Smith, David Smith and Scott Sullivan into dangerous positions, they could cut loose.

Cork C of I B host Quins on Saturday before the roles are reversed on Monday night when C of I visit Quins B.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s men annexed a notable 1-1 draw with Great Britain at Bisham Abbey yesterday, with Paul Gleghorne — whose brother Mark lined out for GB — opening the scoring. The sides meet again today at 11am.

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