Munster sides face uphill battle to grab wildcard berths

OPPORTUNITY knocks for Bandon and UCC as they bid to bolster Munster’s Irish Hockey League (IHL) representation next season by succeeding at this weekend’s wildcard playoffs at Garryduff in Cork.

Bandon, in particular, will be gunning for success in the men’s competition at the fourth time of asking. The west Cork side have finally got their wish of something resembling a hometown venue, the wildcard having been held in Dublin for the past three seasons.

Last season, Ger Burns’ side bemoaned having to travel for all three tournaments, especially while many of their players were mired in college exams, saying their pleas to the Irish Hockey Association to have the competition rotated around the provinces had fallen on deaf ears.

In 2007/08, they travelled to Belfast only to narrowly lose out to Instonians and Fingal, before getting little change out of Lisnagarvey and Corinthian in Dublin a year later, with ‘Garvey and YMCA doing the damage last time out.

The last two tournaments have seen them play their games back-to-back, but as well as hometown advantage, they have got their preferred Friday night and Sunday afternoon slots this time around.

They meet Three Rock Rovers tonight (8pm), bidding to quell the momentum of a pacy Rathfarnham outfit who have ended the season well, losing just one of their last nine games.

Instonians follow on Sunday, with decorated former internationals Paddy Brown and Mark Irwin holding the fort there alongside younger talents such as William Robinson and Pakistani schemer Imataz Pannu.

Bandon’s biggest challenge is overcoming a lack of momentum, given their season has wound down in a quiet fashion since their Munster Senior Cup final defeat to Cork C of I.

They’ll nonetheless be looking to unleash the likes of Ali Smith, Graham Kingston and Andrew Scannell as they bid to join Cork Harlequins and Cork C of I in next year’s IHL.

Two of the three outfits will qualify, meaning a win in either game would put Bandon in a strong position, but they will nonetheless be underdogs in both clashes.

The same tag applies to UCC, who are hoping to join Catholic Institute and Cork Harlequins in the women’s competition next season.

Although they’ll have star performers Miriam Crowley, Olivia Roycroft and Ali O’Regan in harness, Páidi Hartnett’s side have been badly hit by clashes with college exams, which is likely to sideline a quartet of key players in Munster representative trio Ali O’Connor, Eibhlín O’Donoghue and Orla Crowley, as well as first-choice goalkeeper Zoe Cremin.

Emma White will deputise between the sticks, while Kate Humphreys, Erica Breen, Andrea Bickerdike and Aine Curran will be looking to make a big impact.

They will be up against it from the off tonight against Old Alex (6pm), a useful outfit who rely heavily on their seven-strong U18 contingent but who also possess a 100-times capped Irish international midfield pivot in Shirley McCay, and former Irish forward Roisin Flinn up front.

Connacht kingpins Greenfields and Ulster side Ards — who knocked College out of the Irish Senior Cup last term — are the other outfits they must contend with, with two of the four sides progressing.


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