Irish Hockey League Finals
The eight leading Irish mens and ladies hockey clubs will descend on Banbridge Hockey Club this weekend for the semi-finals of Irish hockey’s blue ribbon event – the Irish Hockey League.
Among them will be Bann despite a final pool game defeat at home to Monkstown as 4 successive victories in previous pool games saw both Bann and Monkstown qualify for the semi-finals. All that was at stake last weekend was who would top the group and therefore take on the second placed team in the other pool.
On a weekend of ebbs and flows in the other group where any one of four teams could qualify, it went right to the wire with Three Rock Rovers rewarded for their win over fellow Dublin side Pembroke Wanderers when Lisnagarvey scored the winner in the dying seconds against Cookstown to secure their place in the semis and also that of Rovers.
This now sets up the mouth-watering prospect of two derbies in the mens semis with holders Monkstown taking on Three Rock Rovers at 3pm followed by the meeting at 5pm of the two stand out sides in Ulster – Bann and Garvey. Havelock Park should be bulging at the seams with the feast of hockey on show and Bann will be calling on all the local support to come out and cheer them on as they seek to add to the IHL title they last won in 2011.
Swallow Groupage backed Bann have a score to settle with their fiercest rivals as the Hillsborough side inflicted an embarrassing 8-2 defeat on the locals just before Christmas in a key Premier League game. Garvey then went on to win the league and reclaim the crown won by Bann last season. Earlier in the season Bann had been good value for a 2-1 victory at this weekend’s venue and Bann will be hoping home advantage and home support will again be the deciding factor.
Bann coach Mark Tumilty has only one injury concern with the experienced Colin Dowds struggling to shake off a leg injury. Aside from this Bann should be at full strength and raring to take on a Garvey side that ominously has found form at the right time of the season. Both sides know each others style inside out and with Garvey now coached by former Bann assistant coach Errol Lutton a close game is expected.
Monkstown will go into their semi as favourites against Three Rock having already claimed the Leinster Premier League crown however Rovers have already inflicted defeat on the Rathdown based outfit on their way to winning the Irish Senior Cup back in February. Both sides are packed full of quality players and the spectators should see a high scoring game as the two teams are very attack minded.
The ladies semis are also full of quality with UCD and Loreto opening proceeding on Saturday at 10.30am. UCD have just added the Irish Senior Cup to their trophy cabinet and will go into the game as slight favourites. The second ladies semi sees Ulster sole survivor Pegasus take on Railway Union from Dublin. This game could go either way with the Dubliners probably starting as the bookies choice to progress to Sundays final.
Sunday sees the ladies final first up at 1.30pm followed by the mens final at 4pm. Both winners will then progress to compete with Europe’s elite in the Euro Hockey League, European hockey’s equivalent of the Champions League. The advice to all spectators is to get their early and soak up the atmosphere that the finals weekend has in abundance.
This is the biggest hockey tournament Bann have hosted since the still recalled European Cup Winners cup in 1985 at Castlewellan Road when Bann triumphed after a marathon penalty shoot-out against the Italians Amiscora Alisarda. The locals are attempting to pull out all the stops in their hosting arrangements and put on a show that will befit the status of the competition. Spectator seating, restaurant food, coffee dock, tuck shop, hockey shop, and top class hockey action will all come as standard at Havelock Park with gates opening at 9am on Saturday morning.
Further details on the match times, admission prices, and spectator facilities on offer are all available in the IHL finals section of the Banbridge Hockey Club website. One thing is certain, Havelock Park will be no place for the faint hearted as Bann seek to triumph on their own hallowed patch in front of their own support – be a part of it!
Blackpool Hockey Festival will be at this event all weekend, so if any of our friends attending BHF2014 are around drop us a tweet and we will come say hi!