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Crunch time for Ulster trio in huge all-Ireland tests

 

By Graham Hamilton

It's going to be a big weekend for Ulster clubs Lisnagarvey, Cookstown and Banbridge as they face crucial all-Ireland games that will make or break their seasons.

Garvey bid to land the Irish Senior Cup for the first time in 13 years when they take on Pembroke Wanderers in Saturday's semi-final at Hillsborough and, if they win, either Glenanne or Three Rock Rovers 24 hours later in the decider at UCD.

Cookstown head to Dublin to face Monkstown in a rearranged game they need to win to climb clear of the EY Irish Hockey League's automatic relegation place - and will have to do it without captain Jon Ames, who is off to Australia for a year.

And it's paramount that Banbridge beat Railway Union in a rescheduled game at Banbridge Academy - their new pitch at Havelock Park isn't quite finished yet - otherwise their hopes of reaching the end-of-season play-offs will evaporate.

First, that Cup weekend facing Garvey - coach Errol Lutton knows his players are keen to bridge that 13-year gap but also that Pembroke pose a real threat, as they showed a fortnight ago in a 3-3 IHL draw at the same venue.

The Blues have sufficient firepower in the form of Andy Williamson and the Nelson brothers Matthew and Daniel, while Sean Murray, Neal Glassey and captain Daniel Buser drive them forward from midfield as well as offering goalscoring back-up.

But it's up to Jonathan Bell and Paul Gleghorne to withstand a prolific Pembroke attack - led by the IHL's top marksman Alan Sothern - that has already scored six times against them in two games this season.

IHL leaders Glenanne take on Three Rock in the other semi in Dublin.

Cookstown's task is a little different - they're trying to avoid relegation, and will now have to play their final five games without skipper Ames.

Ames is heading off to Australia's Gold Coast to watch the Commonwealth Games action before moving on to Melbourne where he will feature with the local club in the Victoria Premier League for the next year.

Ames explained: "Melbourne have had a number of Irish players in recent years, including Brian O'Malley (ex-Glenanne) and Kevin Mullins (Three Rock) who highly recommended them as a grassroots and family-orientated club, similar to that at home.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity but ultimately disappointed to be leaving my hometown club, even if only for a year.

"We are knee deep in a relegation battle but I have every confidence in the squad to grind out some positive results to secure top-flight hockey next season."

Sixth-placed Bann must beat Railway to keep play-off dreams alive and hope that Cookstown do them a favour by beating fifth-placed Monkstown.

Finally, Three Rock crashed 20-10 against KHC Dragons in their ninth-16th play-off in the EuroHockey League, a result that may jeopardise one of Ireland's two slots in the top-flight series.

The EHL award two for a field goal and one for a penalty corner but to concede a dozen times in a game augurs badly for rankings.

Belfast Telegraph

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