Rising stars give Ireland's coach selection headache
Ireland coach Craig Fulton will sit down today to finalise his squad for the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup series in Malaysia early next month.
Fulton was quietly pleased with results in the Five Nations tournament in Benalmadena, where they finished second behind the hosts, especially as he further blooded some of his younger players in Johnny McKee, Matthew Nelson, Darragh Walsh, Sam O'Connor, Stephen Cole, Lee Cole, Julian Dale, Jeremy Duncan, Jamie Carr and Mark Ingram.
To have beaten Canada (4-1), Scotland (5-1) and the USA (4-2) and only lost 3-2 to a late winner against the higher ranked Spanish augurs well for the future.
But it also gives the coach a bit of a headache as he prepares his selection for Malaysia, for he must continue to juggle his extended squad due to player unavailability.
Work commitments play a big role in who will get the nod, for it's a common problem trying to get everyone free when there are so many tournaments and build-up games to take in.
The chances are he'll recall his most capped player, Banbridge's Eugene Magee, who recently returned to action after breaking his finger, and perhaps John Jackson, while goalkeeper David Harte should be available as his commitments to the Malaysia League are almost over.
But the Spanish trip gave him a chance to see his younger players step up to the level required and most of what he saw was encouraging - 15 goals in four games is not to be sniffed at.
Three Ulster players were among the goalscorers in Saturday's 4-2 win over the USA, with Johnny McKee, Peter Caruth and Neal Glassey giving them a comfortable lead and Alan Sothern getting the fourth.
Spain beat Canada 4-1 yesterday to confirm top place in the round-robin series.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Premier League nears its top/bottom split, with four midweek games and three on Saturday completing the first phase.
Bangor are back on top after two goals each from Chris Campbell and Stephen Hamill paved the way for a 7-0 success at Queen's, whereas Kilkeel dropped two vital home points in a 3-3 draw with Mossley.
There were away wins for Ballynahinch and Cliftonville in the Irish Hockey Challenge but Armagh lost out on the shoot-out at Mullingar.
William Edgar got a hat-trick for the Hinch in a 4-3 win at Waterford and now they and Cliftonville will be hoping to avoid each other in the semi-final draw.
And three Ulster teams made it to the Irish Junior Cup semi-finals, with Banbridge II and North Down II winning all-Ulster ties while Lisnagarvey II edged through after a shoot-out at Pembroke II.
Five Nations Tournament (Benalmadena); Ireland 4 (J McKee, P Caruth, N Glassey, A Sothern) USA 2. Spain 4 Canada 1
Ulster Premier League: Queen's 0 Bangor 7 (S Hamill 2, C Campbell 2, R Burgess, R Cunningham, D McClune); Belfast Harlequins 3 (L McClelland, C Lemon, D Coates) North Down 2 (P Wilson, G McKeown); Kilkeel 3 (D Finlay, J Aiken, D Rae) Mossley 3 (P Kane, A Monahan, J Robinson); Newry 3 (D England 2, K McWilliams) South Antrim 2 (C Henry 2); Raphoe 0 Civil Service 2 (R Anderson, J Sullivan)
Irish Hockey Challenge: Waterford 3 Ballynahinch 4 (W Edgar 3, G Hayes); Wicklow 0 Cliftonville 3; Mullingar 3 Armagh 3 (A Reddick 2, S Pelow) Mullingar won 3-0 on shoot-out; Catholic Institute 3 Midleton 1
Irish Junior Cup quarter-finals: Kilkeel II 1 Banbridge II 5; Instonians II 2 North Down II 3; Pembroke II 3 Lisnagarvey II 3 (Garvey won shoot-out); Glenanne II 7 Monkstown II 1
John Minnis Estate Agents Burney Cup 1st round: Sullivan Upper 3 Bangor Grammar 1; Wallace High 4 Banbridge Academy 2; Grosvenor Grammar 2 Regent House 3