Hockey: Ross in race against time to face champions
Banbridge may not have a better chance of beating all-Ireland champions Pembroke Wanderers than when they meet on Saturday in the Irish Hockey League at Havelock Park.
But whether they have their talisman and penalty corner king Ross McCandless on the pitch to help their cause remains to be seen.
Ross was an absentee in last week’s loss at Lisnagarvey due to a rib injury and also sat out last night's 1-0 defeat against Annadale at Lough Moss.
“I'm doing some light training, but I can't afford to come back too soon,” he said. “Our main target on the national front is the Irish Senior Cup, as we're trailing a bit in the IHL, and therefore it's more important that I'm ready for that.
“But if I can make it for Pembroke, I'll be there. But only if I'm fit.”
The Dubliners have dominated Irish hockey for the past few seasons but the loss of so many internationals during the close season, and more recently their overseas stars, has taken away their aura.
For the first time in ages they have hit a slump, losing three of their last four games during which they managed just one goal, sliding down to third place in the Leinster League with several more games played than their rivals.
Bann coach Mark Tumilty sees it as a great chance for his players to shake off the disappointment of losing their 100% Ulster Premier League record to Garvey last week by forcing their way back into IHL contention.
Not only do they trail Pembroke who have won their three IHL games and earned a bonus point, but Dublin YMCA and Monkstown are also in the frame after two wins from three and two bonus points.
In a nutshell, Bann need to beat Pembroke this week and then YMCA next week in their final pool game to have any chance of sneaking in to the semi-finals.
Instonians could actually do Bann a massive favour if they could get something from their trip to YMCA on Saturday.
Lisnagarvey's position in the other pool is a lot healthier, with two wins and a draw leaving them top on goal difference ... but that could change if they don't get something positive from their trip to Cookstown.
The last meeting between these two sides saw the Tyrone team beat Garvey in the Kirk Cup semi-finals, but the Blues will feel a lot better after last week's league win over Bann and will be looking revenge, although the loss of Peter Macdonnell and Stephen Hunter, who left this week on a gap year to Australia, takes away some of their strength in depth.
Dublin sides Corinthian and Glenanne are breathing down Garvey's neck but have difficult games on Saturday too.
Certainly Glenanne won't find a rejuvenated Annadale an easy touch at Lough Moss in a game scheduled for Sunday afternoon (1pm).
The one Ulster Premier League fixture is a real relegation six-pointer, with bottom teams Bangor and Civil Service meeting at Ballykillaire.
Irish Hockey League Pool A: Cookstown v Lisnagarvey, Coolnafranky, 2.30pm (Umpires, L Allen, N Mackay); Annadale v Glenanne, Lough Moss LC, Sunday, 1pm (Umpires, C Beattie, C Hutchinson); Corinthian v Cork C of I, Whitechurch Park, 2.30pm (Umpires, D Clarke, R Johnston). Pool B: Banbridge v Pembroke Wanderers, Havelock Park, 4pm (Umpires, K Cholewa, R Lorimer); Dublin YMCA v Instonians, Alexandra College, 3pm (Umpires, C Bolger, A Groves); Cork Harlequins v Monkstown, Harlequin Park, 1pm (Umpires, A Shute, B Attridge)
O'NE 1918 Premier League: Bangor v Civil Service, Ballykillaire, 2.30pm (Umpires, C Beattie, N McBride). Senior One: Belfast Harlequins v Ballynahinch, Deramore, 2.30pm (Umpires, J Aiken, D Pearson); Queen's v Raphoe, Upper Malone, 2.30pm (Umpires, C Telford, A Campbell); Cliftonville v Armagh, CIYMS, 2.30pm (Umpires, J McCalister, D Corry); South Antrim Antrim, Laurelhill, 2.30pm (Umpires, B McQueen, A Gibson); Portadown v Newry, Edenvilla, 1pm (Umpires, M Dowds, S Harvey)by GRAHAM HAMILTON