Munster hockey’s biggest derby returns for the first time in four seasons as Cork C of I and Harlequins face off on the opening day of men’s Division One tomorrow.
The circumstances are unfortunate. C of I’s relegation from the all-island EY Hockey League in the spring means there is no side from the southern province at the top table this term.
But the renewed rivalry will bring back a marquee showdown to Farmers’ Cross (2.30pm) with at least some of the lustre remaining.
Denis Pritchard’s C of I are keen to get straight back to the top tier, and six new arrivals see them significantly strengthened. Munster U18 heroes (and winners of the province’s first interpro title in 15 years last weekend) Mark Collins and Rob Sweetnam join the panel from Bandon, along with Phil Sweetnam (from Ashton), Mark Horgan, Eoin Finnegan (both UCC), and South African Andrew Fenske widen the panel significantly.
Billy Lynch’s retirement is compensated for well by Peter Coulter, but Alex Burns and Tony Brophy will be tougher to replace after their moves up to Dublin.
Quins, meanwhile, have Julian Dale available for the whole season following his spectacular stint last term, netting over 40 goals after his return midseason from Belgium.
Bandon, meanwhile, are gunning for a place back in the EYHL Division 2. The West Cork side start their campaign against last year’s surprise package Waterford with Ian Hosford, Calum Crowley, and Rob Smith back in the fold. The Déise men, however, have seen four of their shining light players move to Dublin, including U21 star Ben Johnson, who is bound for Three Rock Rovers.
Ashton face Catholic Institute in the other game on the agenda, while UCC wait in the wings to make their seasonal entry.
The fact that the provincial season is getting under way on time is itself a relief. The last few summers have seen gaps in the Munster Branch’s management board with play suspended until a solution was found.
A repeat situation was avoided this time, however, with Cliona Fergey appointed chairperson and Aisling Deasy the vice-chairperson, meaning the central positions were filled.
Garryduff, meanwhile, will play host to the girls U18 and U16 interprovincial championships. The older age group is captained by Nikki Barry, who starred in Cork Harlequins’ run to the Irish Senior Cup last season.
She is among a half-dozen from the club while Crescent College’s Kate Russell All-Ireland Schools winners provide vice-captain Sophie Clein, Eimear Lane, and Nicole Griffin to coach Darren Wilkinson’s line-up.
Their schedule starts off at lunchtime today (1pm) against Connacht, with Leinster later in the day (6.30pm). Saturday sees them face the South East, while Ulster are the opponent on Sunday morning. The U16s follow the same order, with Connacht at 12pm and Leinster at 5.15pm today.
Ireland’s women, meanwhile, will play China four times over the course of the week, with Saturday and Sunday dates at Belfield before switching to the National Sports Campus on Tuesday and Thursday.