Hockey: Plenty at stake in first derby clash of the season
It's the game hockey fans have been patiently waiting for . . . the first meeting of the season between fierce derby rivals Lisnagarvey and Banbridge.
There's more than pride at stake in this big game, which has an earlier 1pm start at Hillsborough — the outcome will go a long way in deciding where the Ulster Premier League title will go, for they are currently separated by just one point at the top of the table.
We're already almost six months into the season but somehow the rivals have managed to avoid each other to date.
The league clash earmarked for Havelock Park back on January 29 was postponed to make way for Irish Senior Cup ties and has been rearranged for March 29; they managed to avoid each other in the Kirk Cup and Irish Senior Cup, with Garvey now eliminated from both; and they are in different Irish Hockey League pools.
The derby clash has been a long time coming, and now that it has arrived, there is so much at stake.
Bann, coached by Mark Tumilty and Errol Lutton who had spells at Garvey, have reached the halfway stage in their league programme without dropping a point, but have to meet Garvey twice in the second half of the season, and these games will likely determine who will be champions.
Both Garvey and Bann had comfortable league wins on Tuesday evening, with Garvey particularly happy to have crushed Civil Service 5-0, thus bouncing back big-style following those back-to-back defeats in the Kirk Cup and Irish Senior Cup.
Timmy Cockram bagged himself a hat-trick against the Stormont men and that keeps Drew Campbell's team at the top but with a game more played.
Bann's 4-1 success over Instonians the same evening saw the goals come from Stephen Dowds, Josh Moffatt, Dairmuid Reay and Philip Brown, and it's this ability to share the goals around that leaves the Garvey defence wondering just who they should be marking tightly on Saturday.
Current league champions Cookstown are up to third after their 5-2 midweek win at Kilkeel and so can't be ruled out of the title equation just yet, and they'll be looking to build on that when they go to bottom team Bangor on Saturday.
The only other Premier game pencilled in sees a rejuvenated Annadale take on an Instonians team going through a bad patch, at the slightly earlier time of 2pm.
O'NE 1918 Premier League: Lisnagarvey v Banbridge, Hillsborough, 1pm (Umpires, C McConkey, T Lorimer); Annadale v Instonians, Lough Moss LC, 2pm (Umpires, W McCully, R Johnston); Bangor v Cookstown, Ballykillaire, 2.30pm (Umpires, L Allen, C Hutchinson). Senior One: Antrim v Belfast Harlequins, Antrim Forum, 1pm (Umpires, M Dowds, D Pearson); South Antrim v Cliftonville, Laurelhill, 2.30pm (Umpires, C Beattie, G Herron); Portadown v Queen's, Edenvilla, Friday 7.45pm (Umpires, C Telford, M Logan); Raphoe v Newry, Royal & Prior, 2.30pm (Umpires, D Clarke, T Templeton)
Irish Junior Cup quarter-finals: Annadale II v Glenanne II, Lough Moss LC, 4pm; Bangor II v Banbridge II, Ballykillaire, 3pm; Pembroke II v Lisnagarvey II, Serpentine Ave., 2pm; Cork Harlequins II v Three Rock II, Cork, 2pm. Irish Hockey Challenge semi-finals: Kilkenny v Ballymena, Kilkenny College, 2pm.