Hockey: Ulster aces to the fore
Cookstown and Lisnagarvey are setting the pace at the top of the Irish Hockey League's two pools as the all-Ireland competition moves into a three-month winter break.
In an extraordinary day four Ulster teams humbled their Leinster opponents on Saturday — Banbridge and Annadale were the others — and it means the northern province holds all the aces with just two games left to play in the pool phase.
These aren't scheduled until February 11 and March 3, as it's almost time for the Irish international squad to begin preparations for their Olympic Qualifier early in the new year.
The Cookstown, Annadale and Garvey results were all the more startling as they were achieved in Dublin rather than at home, and the Tyrone men also managed to pick up a bonus point for claiming victory by three clear goals.
Cookstown took full advantage of Leinster kingpins Glenanne being without Irish international defender Joe Brennan and they were well worth their 5-2 success to move two points clear in Pool A.
And with Banbridge beating previous leaders Monkstown 2-1 at Havelock Park, it means that Cookstown are on nine points with Bann and Monkstown on seven.
Glenanne — who were expected to qualify for the play-offs — are away back playing catch-up on three points.
It was lucky 13 for Cookstown when Paul Thompson gave them the lead against Glenanne from a tight angle in the 13th minute and that gave them the incentive to go for the jugular.
In fact the Tyrone men found themselves 5-1 ahead before the third quarter was complete, with Greg Allen scoring at the back post and then deflecting in Ian Sloan's cross, while Sloan scored from a Mark Crooks cross and Timmy Smyth converted on the reverse stick.
Graham Shaw had scored the Dublin side's first goal and on the hour Gary Shaw scored their second, but they couldn't find a way through for the third and so Cookstown picked up a useful bonus point.
Garvey's 2-0 success at Three Rock Rovers means it's three wins out of three for them in the other pool, and they are now three points clear of Annadale, Cork C of I and Dublin YMCA and four clear of the Pembroke team who were expected to qualify with ease.
Andy Forrest fired them ahead before the interval after good work by Peter MacDonnell.
And then last year's captain Johnny Gray made his first appearance of the season late on and as a makeshift striker.
It was certainly a memorable comeback as he struck the decisive second goal and indeed almost added a third.