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Determined Cookstown have a mountain to climb in All-Ireland cup bid

men's hockey

By Graham Hamilton

Cookstown may have dropped out of the All-Ireland League last season following relegation, but they are determined to rub shoulders with the big guns again - albeit through the All-Ireland Cup.

The Tyrone lads are already into the Kirk Cup semi-finals and unbeaten in the Ulster Premier League, and now they are contemplating a lengthy run in the Irish Senior Cup, starting with a tricky trip to Kilkeel on Saturday.

The Red Army last won the trophy in 2011 but they believe making an impact this season would lay down a marker as they attempt to regain their All-Ireland status for next year.

Cookstown's experienced defender Keith Black accepts the first round draw has given them a mountainous task when they make the trip into the heart of the Mournes.

"There is no doubt this will be a close one," admitted Black. "It is always hard fought at Kilkeel and I don't expect this game to be any different.

"The cup really gets teams to focus, as no one wants to go out in the first round.

"But we'll need to improve across the board from last week's narrow 2-1 win at Newry if we are to progress.

"I expect a much different game plan from Kilkeel. They will want to hang onto the ball and use their skilful players to move us around.

"But we'll have to stand up to the challenge and give them something to chase when we have possession."

Cookstown have potential match-winners in Greg Allen, who is already leading the Ulster goalscoring charts, and Stuart Smyth, while goalkeeper Tobias Deppermann has slotted in extremely well since veteran Ian Hughes stepped down from 1st XI action after donning the pads for almost two decades.

But Kilkeel are long overdue a lengthy run in the competition, and they've started the season well with three wins from three to top the Ulster Premier League, so expect a close affair.

Meanwhile, Lisnagarvey begin with a trip to Pembroke in Dublin and would be happy to repeat last season's success over the Serpentine Avenue side on their way to reaching the final.

Irish international striker Alan Sothern remains Pembroke's biggest threat but Erroll Lutton's lads are aiming to build on the 2-1 Irish Hockey League win over them at the start of this month.

There are a couple of other interesting cross-border ties, including at Deramore, where Belfast Harlequins take on a Cork C of I team that has climbed to third place in the IHL, and also at Stormont where Civil Service face the Three Rock team that held Garvey to 1-1 last week.

Banbridge sit out the action this week as they were among seven teams to get first round byes, as were current cup holders Monkstown.

The Ulster Premier League is curtailed due to the cup, but there are two games, with Annadale taking on Campbellians for the second successive week, while North Down face Newry.

Belfast Telegraph


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