HOPE springs eternal for some of the lesser lights in Munster hockey as the domestic season gets underway this weekend.
While the fortunes of the established ‘big two’ – Cork Church of Ireland and Cork Harlequins – attract the most intense scrutiny, the men of UCC and Catholic Institute’s women are among the other clubs providing talking points.
The appointment of Neil Welch as coach and a glut of new arrivals has sparked debate as to whether College – basement boys last season – can be a genuine force.
Brothers Roger and Andy Gray – mainstays of C of I’s Irish Junior Cup winning side last term – are the men who can make things happen at the Mardyke, alongside the talents of David Mills and Philip Sweetnam.
Bandon, who have lost talisman Clinton Sweetnam to C of I, could be looking nervously over their shoulders as College target third place. C of I and Quins should still be the two breathing the thinner air at the summit, where the former will start favourites to pick up their fourth title on the trot.
Squad depth is the primary problem at Quins, where the loss of goalkeeper Chris Daunt and promising midfielder Colin Ross to long-term injuries won’t have helped their cause, although veterans Mark Black and Paul Lombard are capable of changing games.
C of I have no such worries, with the competition for places in a squad boasting almost a dozen players in the frame internationally is rivalled only by Pembroke Wanderers. In John Jermyn they have the country’s best drag-flicker, but they must solve their eternal conundrum of finding the net from play; immensely talented teenager Nick Burns is their great white hope in this regard.
In the women’s league, a new order of sorts was established last term. For the first time since the late 1990s, Quins’ dominance was called into question, as they needed a title playoff to see off UCC. Things could be even more interesting this time, given Quins’ squad has undergone a major overhaul in the close season with seven new arrivals.
Pick of those is Sinead McCarthy, a talented centre-back and former skipper of top English side Poynton. But new coach Eddie Gash is otherwise preparing to put his faith in youth so expect to see more of young starlets Leanne Mullins, Yvonne O’Byrne and Acacia Taylor as he admits his side are in transition.
A relatively settled College outfit look best-placed to upset the apple cart. Former Bandon girls Olivia Roycroft and Kate Murphy are astute signings with the former likely to fill the void left by Irish international Hollie Moffett, now based in England.
C of I could be in for a tough year, given Deirdre Casey, Michaela Mihailou, Suzy Herbert and Jenny Kenefick have all headed for foreign pastures, while Bandon are another side who will have to rebuild after losing some of their brightest talents over the summer.
But things are looking up for last season’s Irish Trophy finalists Catholic Institute, who will make life difficult for everyone. The mercurial Elaine Bromell has returned from Bray and the continued improvement of underage internationals Rebecca Barry and Naomi Carroll gives plenty of cause for optimism.
The established top-level sides will also have a new foe this season, with Waterford gaining promotion at Belvedere’s expense.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s World Cup qualification opponents Argentina have pulled out of a three-game series with the men in green scheduled for Dublin at the end of the month. Irish coach Paul Revington will now re-select his squad for the subsequent clashes with Scotland on October 2-4 as a result.
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