Reds need win to avoid relegation
Cookstown are remaining upbeat for Saturday's final throw of the dice to avoid relegation from the EY Irish Hockey League despite last night's Anderson Cup semi-final defeat.
The Reds lost 4-2 to Banbridge at Hillsborough and somehow will have to turn the tables on the same opposition on Saturday to avoid tumbling out of the top tier and into the IHL 2 and Ulster Premier League next season.
And while they are teetering on the brink of relegation, Instonians are hoping they can go the other way by gaining promotion to the top flight through this weekend's IHL 2 play-offs being hosted by Corinthian at their St Columba's College ground just off Dublin's M50.
The best scenario for Ulster is that Cookstown somehow survive their precarious position and that Instonians not only clear Saturday's semi-final against UCD but go on to clinch promotion by winning Sunday's final against either Railway Union or hosts Corinthian.
That would give Ulster five teams in the IHL, but the reality is that it is more likely to be four or at worst a drop to just three.
But last night's setback against Bann gave Cookstown an insight into what they can expect in Saturday's win or bust league game at Steelweld Park.
Zach McClelland gave Bann an early lead but Stuart Smyth levelled from a penalty corner before two goals in a minute in the second half put Bann 3-1 ahead.
Jamie Wright and Josh Moffett were the marksmen and then David Rae made it four with a penalty stroke before Raymond Miller's last minute consolation.
A win on Saturday would virtually assure Cookstown of another season among the elite, a draw would probably send them into a play-off against the IHL 2 play-off runners-up, and a defeat would likely mean automatic relegation.
"We've a tough match, there's no doubting that, but I think we've put in enough good performances of late against the big sides to go into it with belief that we can win it," said Cookstown skipper Greg Allen.
"We didn't show it against Three Rock in our last league game, but we know that it's do-or-die now.
"It won't be for want of effort that we come out on the wrong side of this, I promise you that.
"We need to keep our composure, stick to the game plan and, with a little luck, we'll come out with the win to keep us safe."
Cookstown currently lie bottom on goal difference with Cork C of I who also have a tough clash against Three Rock at the Cork venue, while Dublin YMCA - who are one point better off -have what seems an easier task with a home game against Pembroke Wanderers who missed out on the end-of-season play-offs.
Instonians opted out of their Anderson Cup last night against Lisnagarvey after lodging an appeal against the decision not to grant them a postponement, due to the proximity of their most important game of the season.
It means coach Stephen Watt won't have to worry about any further injuries, with prolific striker Stephen Kelso already fighting a fitness battle.
Much will depend on their set-pieces against UCD - there's little doubt William Robinson can convert penalty corners if they come his way, but they'll also have to defend them well.
Saturday also sees the Sussex Regiment Cup semi-finals with Pool A winners Newry taking on Pool B runners-up Mossley at the border venue, and Pool B winners Civil Service taking on Queen's at Stormont.