Cork C of I emerged from the Farmers Cross fog with a 3-1 semi-final win over Harlequins to set up a St Stephen’s Day Peard Cup final showdown with Bandon.
That decider will take place at 2pm in Garryduff. There, C of I are aiming to continue a remarkable unbeaten run in the competition which dates back to 2009, though with four years absence due to their withdrawal following the introduction of the EY Hockey League.
Denis Pritchard’s side did it the hard way, coming from a goal down after a serious arm-wrestle.
In tough conditions and a feisty grudge match mood in the air, chances were at a premium in the first half before Julian Dale broke the deadlock in the third quarter for Quins.
But parity was restored within five minutes as Mark Collins located Alex Deane in the circle and he flicked home a rare goal.
It kickstarted some serious momentum with Philip Sweetnam hitting the post before Simon Wolfe arrowed in the 2-1 goal from a corner. Wolfe then sealed the deal when he took in John Jermyn’s excellent overhead pass and finished on his backhand.
The win sets up the final date with reigning champions Bandon who advanced a couple of weeks ago with a handy 8-1 victory over Ashton.
The West Cork side have had a groundbreaking period of late in local competitions, winning their first provincial senior league and cup titles. But key man Ali Smith says getting the chance to take down the big guns in a final is a “sweet opportunity”.
“The success we had was fantastic obviously but, always in the back of your head, you do know C of I are probably the best team in Munster,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“To have them back in the league and cup competitions, it makes things more real. To win it against a team like that would be the ‘true’ trophy. I’ve always wanted that; we have come very close before but also had some absolute drubbings!” Smith was player-coach for the past few seasons but is now focusing solely on the playing side with a crucial sideline addition in place.
Nigel Buttimer was capped 51 times in an injury-curtailed Irish career up until 2004.
He was co-opted into the coaching team in the autumn where he joins his namesake Dave Buttimer. Nigel was a C of I stalwart during his peak playing days before moving west to settle in Clonakilty and lined out for Bandon’s second team a few years ago.
“It has given us an added dimension. It has allowed me to play my game and allowed them call the shots,” Smith says.
“We should be at full strength. Training has been disrupted with people sick with flu and the weather hasn’t helped but we are doing some ‘off-standard’ sessions between now and the final so we should be well prepared."