Cork Harlequins v Annadale (Saturday), 1pm, Farmer's Cross
Two sides without yet in the competition, the hosts prop up the table after a narrow reverse in Pembroke and a chastening turnover at home last time out against Glenanne.
In recent weeks a number of top players returned to the fold, including the Lombard brothers Paul and David while Mark Black is free to focus on his club hockey after his international retirement during the week. Eddie Dore is out, replaced by Colin Ross.
They face an Annadale side smarting after being denied what looked a nailed-on bonus-point win by the elements at Coolnafranky. It means they, too, need a win to keep hopes alive of a final-four slot.
Cookstown v Pembroke Wanderers, (Saturday), 6pm, Coolnafranky
Cookstown will hope they can put a dent in their reputation of not producing against southern rivals as they host Pembroke at Coolnafranky. Given somewhat of a reprieve after a sub-par performance against Annadale, they go into the game in decent health as only Stuart Smyth last week's game with Monkstown.
David Ames looked dangerous throughout at right midfield while Andy Barbour came off the bench to show he can still unlock defences. Ivan Steen, though, is their main man -and only non Cookstown HS graduate - and Pembroke will do well to keep him quiet after a virtuoso run out last week.
The 'Broke, though, have hit goalscoring form recently - 17 in three games. Sothern has scored in nigh-on every game he has played while Gordy and Maurice Elliott are now pocketing a few goals too. A back five which hold of Conor and David Harte, Ronan Gormley and Colin Kelly should also go a long way in this competition making this battle of two league leaders one to watch. Last year, Justin Sherriff was a vital factor in an ISC win, scoring one of the goals of the year.
Glenanne v Instonians (Sunday), 3pm, Glenanne Park
Certainly one of the key talking points this weekend will be the Mark Gleghorne saga as he discussed his intentions this week to look into rules that govern the possibility of playing for Britain.
How he, and Instonians, respond to what could be a hot reception at Glenanne Park could have a crucial bearing on the game. The Old Boys in recent weeks have been resurgent, partly thanks to Gleghorne's return from a long-standing injury while Paddy Brown and Steven Redpath have also lifted the side.
They were stopped in their tracks last week by Quins - a side Glenanne disposed of comfortably. Indeed, of the games attended by The Hook so far this season, the Glens have produced comfortably the best form with Stephen Butler and Graham Shaw top class.
Fingal v Banbridge (Saturday), 2.30pm, ALSAA
The value of Derek O'Gorman to Fingal will become more apparent as time goes on but as early statements of intent go, his goal that settled the Bandon tie last week was something special. For a workaholic side, his ability to conjure up something special could see them cause another upset.
Mick McGuinness' drags are coming on strong though David Bane is, once again, hoping to avoid sitting on the sidelines.
For Bann, Geoff McCabe (shin) and Diarmuid Reay (hamstring) are both hoping to be included in Suzanne Evans side on Saturday and they will be spurred on by one of the largest travelling supports for what is not a particularly long away trip.
Eugene Magee and Ross McCandless will always be threats but Fingal's graft could see them turn a few heads.
Cork C of I v Monkstown (Saturday), 4pm, Garryduff
The Town need desperately to learn how to hold onto a lead in the big matches this year after whirlwind starts against the likes of Lisnagarvey and Cookstown. An eminently talented side, they only have a point to show for two games and another reverse at Garryduff will see their challenge done.
John Jermyn has been the CI star this term and two bonus points has them in a healthy position after two games despite a 2-1 defeat to Banbridge.
Lisnagarvey v Three Rock Rovers (Saturday), 5pm, Hillsborough
While last season's Club Championships final was probably instantly forgettable to all bar Rovers and their supporters, their semi-final tussle with Lisnagarvey was one of the great fixtures of recent All-Ireland history.
The 6-5 had almost everything with Mitch Darling coming to public attention with his five-star performance, 'Garvey's Timmy Cockram-inspired comeback which almost culminated with a last-gasp equaliser and some of the best attacking hockey for years.
Neither side is operating at the same level as last May with Rovers looking to peak for European competition and their international contingent slowly easing back into action. Darling plays his second game of 2009 while Charlie Henderson could be back for his first appearance since the turn of the year.
Further good news is Gavin Bourke's back injury is not as bad as first feared and he could be back within two weeks.
'Garvey have dropped to sixth in Ulster but still have the firepower of Cockram and the nous of Brian Waring and Mark Raphael to call upon in what should be an enticing fixture. Both sides need the win to stay in touch with Bann and CI.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Posted by Stephen Findlater at 12:52 PM