Cancer survivor Corry keen to lead Garvey to more joy
Don't be surprised if you see Lisnagarvey captain James Corry pinch himself as he takes to Banbridge's Havelock Park pitch on Saturday for the EY Irish Champions Trophy semi-final against Glenanne.
The midfielder admits he never expected Garvey to make such an impact this season after the loss of four international players to Europe and a couple of other regulars during the summer.
So to have won the regulation Irish Hockey League by six clear points to take their place in these end-of-season play-offs, and have the Irish Senior Cup final and Anderson Cup latter stages still to come, it has been an amazing first season wearing the captain's armband.
But that's not the only reason he finds it hard to believe that he will be leading out Garvey for the climax of what has been a memorable campaign.
That's because he recalls all too well that it was just over a year ago that he finished the punishing treatment for testicular cancer.
And never in his wildest dreams could he have predicted how well things have gone for him since.
"My fitness levels have been improving and I'm further forward than I could ever have expected," said the Ballyclare High teacher.
"And to captain the team to the IHL title has been amazing, with the possibility of more trophies to come.
"The loss of so many quality players over the summer was a blow to the club, but the young players have gelled in extremely well.
"I think the turning point was the winter break - it gave us the chance to work on our skills and also team bonding, and we've had an incredible run since then."
Corry supplies the experience for Garvey along with international defender Jonathan Bell and striker Andy Williamson.
But thereafter the average age drops significantly, particularly as coach Errol Lutton successfully blended in a host of teenagers experiencing their first season at All-Ireland level.
Schoolboys Troy Chambers, Jonny Lynch and Oliver Kidd are regularly among the goals, while Andy Edgar, Mark McNellis and Harry Morris have settled in well in defence alongside Bell and James Lorimer.
And then there are the Nelson brothers - Matthew, Daniel and Ben - who continually find themselves on the scoresheet.
But Corry knows that they must give Glenanne respect despite having drawn once and beaten them twice already this season.
"All three games against them were tight - even the recent 5-1 win when we scored a few late on - so we'll be taking nothing for granted," he said.
It's hosts Banbridge against Three Rock Rovers in the other semi-final, so there's a chance of an all-Ulster decider, although the odds are against it.
The grandstand is at the ready, the weather forecast is favourable for the weekend, the Havelock Hut food court and tuckshop will be in operation, and there's the likelihood of a full house to cheer on Mark Tumilty's lads as they try to book a place in Europe.
It won't be easy, as Three Rock are notoriously hard opposition, are current Champions Trophy holders and have recently returned from their EuroHockey League campaign - the sort of quality opposition you want in the build-up.
But when you have Ireland's most capped player Eugene Magee in your ranks, and other potent goalscorers like Johnny McKee, Josh Moffett and Fraser Mills, then there is certain to be goals.
And therefore it's all about Bann conceding as few as possible to have a realistic chance of lining out in Sunday's final which offers a place in Europe.
SATURDAY: EY Irish Champions Trophy semi-finals (Banbridge): Lisnagarvey v Glenanne (3pm); Three Rock Rovers v Banbridge (5pm)
Ulster Intermediate Cup Pool A: CI v Ballynahinch (4pm)
Pool B: Saintfield v Armagh (2.30pm)
SUNDAY: EY Irish Champions Trophy final (Banbridge): Lisnagarvey or Glenanne v Three Rock Rovers or Banbridge (4.45pm)
EY Irish Hockey League Promotion/Relegation play-off (St Columba's College, Dublin): Cork C of I v UCD (1.30pm)