Ireland’s premier hockey league has undergone a major facelift this year with the introduction of pooled venues and the compression of the competition into five consecutive weeks. Part of that necessitates a‘double weekend’ for each participant, who will play games tomorrow and Sunday.
Leinster men’s teams in particular are no stranger to this; their controversially truncated season saw them squeeze 14 league games in before Christmas, mostly via double weekends.
However, it’s a relatively rare phenomenon in Munster, certainly in terms of having to play two such high-intensity games in close proximity.
It’s against that backdrop that Cork Church of Ireland have arguably one of the toughest double weekends of the lot in the men’s competition. Not only do they have a long journey to Ulster, but face top opposition in Banbridge and Lisnagarvey — pre-tournament favourites to make the semi-finals.
C of I stole an early march in their 4-1 dismantling of Glenanne last weekend and will hope Andy Herbert can again be at his best in midfield.
A similarly trying weekend is on the cards for Cork Harlequins, whose squad is down to the bare bones due to injury as their old boys try to hold the fort.
A 6-1 defeat to Cookstown in Garryduff last weekend highlighted the scale of the task for Quins in this season’s IHL, not to mention their upcoming European excursion where all of Ireland will be hoping they can be successful enough to win back the country’s second place in the EuroHockey League.
Things don’t get any easier for them as they must play Irish Senior Cup winners Monkstown and Leinster champions Pembroke Wanderers, neither of whom are short on firepower.
In the women’s IHL, Catholic Institute will need to maximise their squad depth for tough ties in Dublin against Railway Union and Loreto.
Coach Ger O’Carroll gave Irish U16 player Michelle Barrett her first-team debut in the 2-0 win over Ulster Elks last weekend, while Holly Redden is another young gun who is helping to freshen up the Insta line-up.
Cork Harlequins will look to their friends in UCC for some advice on tomorrow’s opponents Ards, who they face at Hermes’ home ground in Booterstown. The national indoor champions beat College 2-0 at the Mardyke earlier this season and stunned UCD 2-1 last weekend.
Quins won by the same margin against Lurgan with Cliodhna Sargent and Yvonne O’Byrne again instrumental, and will be looking to do some more damage themselves against UCD on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the domestic top flight comes to a close in Munster with four games this weekend, albeit with little more than pride at stake as all the major issues have been ironed out at this stage.
UL will definitely finish bottom of the table but may yet get a relegation reprieve. The Limerick students, who are down to just one team, fear their club could fold should they drop to Division 2 amid an exodus of players.
Despite their wretched league form, UL won the Munster Senior Plate and reached the last four of the Irish Hockey Trophy, suggesting they can be more competitive if they find consistency. It remains to be seen whether the Munster Branch of the Irish Hockey Association will agree.