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Crunch time for Garvey and Instonians title ambitions

By Graham Hamilton

Both the national and provincial league titles are likely to be decided on Saturday, with Lisnagarvey favourites to clinch the Irish Hockey League and Instonians the Ulster Premier League.

We're at the business end of the season and it's make or break for the four Ulster teams in the IHL and those at the top and bottom of the Premier League.

Firstly the IHL, which resumes after a three-week break, and it's an important day for all four Ulster teams - and they are scheduled to meet each other.

If leaders Garvey win at bottom team Annadale, they will be crowned champions with three games to spare, with the Dale pushed closer to automatic relegation back to provincial hockey.

The Blues have had a fortnight to get over their disappointment of losing the Irish Senior Cup final in controversial circumstances, and coach Errol Lutton emphasises his players must move on and concentrate on landing the league title and clinching a place in the end-of-season Irish Champions Trophy play-offs from which they can qualify for next season's main European competition.

The Dale are aware of the scoring ability of top scorer Timmy Cockram but now that threat has been heightened with the recent arrival of his international colleague Michael Watt.

For the Lough Moss side, it's the type of game they could have done without as they battle to climb off the foot of the table, especially as they have several key players missing through injury.

They need points urgently, yet they have another tough battle ahead in newly crowned Irish Senior Cup winners Monkstown.

The good news is that they haven't yet lost sight of Cork C of I and Cookstown above them, and it could be the games at Railway Union and home to Pembroke Wanderers over the next fortnight which will ultimately decide their fate.

The Cork lads have been sliding down the table fast and have a particularly difficult run-in which might sway in Annadale's favour.

The other all-Ulster tie is at Steelweld Park where Cookstown and Banbridge meet, and again there is more than pride at stake.

Bann are determined to maintain their third place in the IHL despite the threat posed by Three Rock Rovers and Glenanne, especially as they want to be part of the Irish Champions Trophy play-offs which they are hosting.

But Cookstown are keen to continue their gradual climb to safety, otherwise Annadale and Cork C of I could reel them in again.

Meanwhile, Instonians are all set to land the Ulster Premier League title to add to the Kirk Cup won earlier in the season.

They complete their programme at second-placed Kilkeel on Saturday knowing that the three-point lead and plus 20 goal difference should safely guarantee them the silverware.

And the end-of-season Anderson Cup kicks off with two first round ties on Saturday with Ballynahinch facing North Down and Campbellians taking on Newry.

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