In one of the busiest club weekends of the season, the return of the men’s U21 — or more accurately U23 — interprovincial tournament slips into action on Sunday at Garryduff.
The competition has been on hiatus since 2016 with just four editions played since 2010 but Hockey Ireland’s high performance unit is keen to see it reinstated.
The purpose is to use the tournament as part of the men’s player pathway to a summer squad for U23 international games, making it effectively a competitive series of trial matches.
The tournament will be played out over the next three Sundays, starting with Ulster facing Leinster in Cork.
Next week, Munster will meet Leinster at Stormont while Ulster play Munster on March 22 in Abbotstown.
Each province has named panels with upwards of 22 players with 18 to be selected for each game. Either side of the formal matches each week, there will be training camps for the players from each province not involved in the formal action.
Munster’s panel draws extensively from Cork C of I and Harlequins who account for 11 of the panel named by David Hobbs with senior international Julian Dale the marquee name.
Given the timing near the business end of the season, Hobbs admits his side have only had a couple of sessions together.
But he does add it is a great opportunity for youngsters from the province to get up to the pace quickly and to have the opportunity to show off their skills and push their case on the national stage.
Interim Irish coach Mark Tumilty had targeted building a wider breadth of player being exposed to the rigours of the international game and this initiative is a key strategic move on that front.
There are no current plans to reinstate the women’s U21 interpros with their pathway overseen by Dave Passmore who has established a large Irish training panel for their summer plans.
In the women’s EY Hockey League, it is a double-weekend for all concerned with Catholic Institute going to Dublin for a fourth weekend in five weeks. They take on Old Alex on Saturday before hosting Railway Union on Sunday where a win could go a long way to assuring safety.
Cork Harlequins will hope their Mount Mercy contingent can last the weekend after their midweek Senior Cup exertions for their double-header.
It starts with an away date against Pembroke and finishes with a return to Farmers’ Cross to take on basement side Belfast Harlequins.
The second round of matches were brought forward to accommodate the international tour which is heading to Durban from March 16 until April 5.
There is also a double weekend for EYHL2 due to several weather-based postponements in February.
Indeed, some teams are effectively playing half of their matches in this competition in March.
For UCC, they only play on Sunday, facing a Monkstown team who visit the Mardyke 24 hours after playing Queen’s.
In the men’s competition, a draw for Cork C of I against Instonians would put them through to the semi-finals with a game to spare.