Cookstown still deep in relegation dogfight
Cookstown's fight to avoid relegation from the EY Irish Hockey League is going right to the wire.
The Tyrone side lost back-to-back games over the weekend - they crashed 5-0 at home to Banbridge on Saturday and then 7-2 at Pembroke Wanderers yesterday - and now everything depends on this Saturday's final round of league fixtures.
The Red Army could avoid the automatic relegation spot if they manage a point or better at Three Rock Rovers on Saturday, although on current form the Dubliners - having already secured runners-up spot - are favourites to win comfortably.
But if bottom team Railway Union fail to win at Lisnagarvey, which is highly likely, then the trapdoor opens on the Dublin side and they drop down into the new IHL2 series for next season.
Cookstown would then go into a promotion/relegation play-off situation against the winners of this weekend's Provincial play-off finals being staged in Cork.
That could be against either Bangor or Instonians who have semi-final clashes coming up against Bandon and Dublin YMCA respectively.
Cookstown were never in the races against Banbridge and goals from Jamie Wright, Johnny McKee, Josh Moffatt, Mark Barlow and Eugene Magee saw them flounder badly.
And it only took five minutes in Dublin yesterday for Pembroke to open a two-goal lead which they extended to seven at one stage with Irish international striker Alan Sothern slamming home a double hat-trick.
Sothern earned his goals through a combination of penalty corners, shots on the reverse, and typical goalmouth poaching, and now has taken his tally to 33 league and Irish Senior Cup goals, well ahead of his nearest challengers.
Cookstown's late goals came from Ryan Millar and Greg Allen.
At the top end of the table, we know for certain that champions Glenanne, runners up Three Rock Rovers and third placed Lisnagarvey are guaranteed their places in the end-of-season Irish Champions Trophy finals weekend now scheduled for Three Rock's ground.
Pembroke look in pole position for that final fourth slot as they now lead fellow Dublin club Monkstown by a point and Banbridge by four, although Bann have a game in hand.
But with Pembroke's final game at home to struggling Cork C of I, it looks likely they'll break Monkstown and Bann hearts.
Both are refusing to give up though, with the Dubliners hitting champions Glenanne for six on their own patch and Bann slamming in five at Cookstown, both games on Saturday.
Bann may have given up staging the finals weekend due to the difficulties surrounding the completion of their new pitch at Havelock Park, but they refuse to give up on the chase for that elusive play-off place.
However, they'll need to beat Garvey at Lurgan JHS tomorrow evening and then Glenanne in Dublin on Saturday and hope that Pembroke somehow come unstuck against Cork.
Meanwhile, the Anderson Cup quarter-final draw is complete, and the big game is Instonians and Bangor - the two teams who'll be trying this weekend to win a place in the all-Ireland top flight next season.
Newry's 5-1 win at South Antrim sets them up for a trip to Mossley; Portadown's 3-2 win at Antrim earns them a home tie against Belfast Harlequins; and the 3-2 win for Queen's over North Down sees them head to league champions Kilkeel.
EY Irish Hockey League: Yesterday: Pembroke Wanderers 7 (A Sothern 6, S Sweetnam) Cookstown 2 (R Millar, G Allen)
Saturday: Annadale 2 (A McAllister, P Caruth) Lisnagarvey 2 (A Williamson, D Buser); Cookstown 0 Banbridge 5 (J Wright, J McKee, J Moffatt, M Barlow, E Magee); Railway Union 0 Pembroke Wanderers 3 (A Sothern, K O'Hare, N Burns); Glenanne 2 (S Boucher 2) Monkstown 6 (G Sarratt 2, K Smyth 2, G Cole, R Quirke); Cork C of I 0 Three Rock Rovers 4 (P Blakeney, J Walker, D Walsh, L Madeley)
Ulster Premier League: Raphoe 6 (S Goudie 2, J Long 2, A Meehan, W Kirkpatrick) Cliftonville 4
Anderson Cup 1st round: Newry Olympic 5 (K McWilliams 2, D Andrews, M Russell, D England) South Antrim 1 (J Moore); Antrim 2 (R McClintock, A McBride) Portadown 3 (G Croft 2, G Titler); Queen's 3 (C Anderson 2, R Kelly) North Down 2 (J Gilmore 2)