The inaugural National Indoor Trophy finals dominate the domestic hockey landscape this weekend as 13 clubs fight it out for the men’s and women’s titles and a place in the 2011 European Club championships.
The competition has more than doubled in the past season with 26 sides taking part from the outset, leading to a finals weekend which begins with a round-robin group stages with the top two advancing to the semi-finals on Sunday.
On the men’s side, reigning Tony Byrne Cup holders Three Rock Rovers impressed en route to the playoff stages with a 6-0 in over 2007 champions Pembroke the highlight.
They have strengthened from the group stages, too, with Sven Galjaardt – a regular on the Dutch indoor scene – available this time out for Liam Canning’s side. Colin Huet will again pull the strings in midfield while Peter Blakeney showed up well on debut in December having only previously lined out for Dublin University in this format of the game.
Group II, though, looks the tougher on paper with 2008 runners-up Monkstown the first opponent while 2009 finalists YMCA are also in the mix. The Town, though, have lost indoor specialist Filip Jaros while Fran Lee’s close control made him a force around the boards.
Alec Barrett’s low centre of gravity, though, makes him a more than useful pivot and the Town should challenge for a semi-final berth.
YM, trained by indoor maestro Trevor Dagg, are another side with bags of potential in this format. Flicking threat Jacob Webber has returned to Australia and David Robinson’s hand injury could curtail their corner threat but Will Powderly’s stick-speed will be a force to reckon with, making for a fascinating tussle.
Avoca, for so long the kingpins, complete the group hoping to cause a few upsets after a couple of years off the pace.
One of the stories of the first round was Clontarf’s mightily impressive debut, spurred by the guest appearance of Laurence Docherty. The Dutchman is unavailable due to an injured knee but the excellent base to the team provided by Kevin King and Rob Abbott makes them contenders and if Andy Poynter and the Forrest brothers hit form then they could take a semi-final spot from Group I.
Perennial contenders Railway Union are the form bet with Paul O’Brien still one of the best around and Kenny Carroll’s reach in the tackle is another formidable proposition.
Pembroke, meanwhile, represent a wildcard option. Their array of outdoor internationals means talent is available and Paddy Conlon has plenty of experience from his days in Scotland but whether they can string it together into a cohesive team performance will be the test. Likewise, Glenanne offer a similar challenge while in-form Steven Doran will return after skipping the group stages because of his cracked rib.
On the women’s side, six contenders have been reduced to five in the bid for four semi-final berths. Hermes and Railway Union have already made it through to the semi-finals following Loreto’s late withdrawal from the competition. Alternative sides were asked to fill the breach but, given the short notice, could not commit and so the sides will play one match in Group A to decide semi-final rankings. Given their two fixtures last weekend, the tie represents an intriguing psychological battle.
It leaves Group B, meanwhile, to provide the fireworks as Richie Malone’s Galway aim to keep hold of the national title following their 2008 win and build confidence ahead of the EuroHockey Club Champions Challenge which they will host later this month.
Both UCD and Old Alex qualified as group runners-up with the students squeezing past Pembroke 4-3 in one of the opening rounds stand-out fixtures. Alex disposed of Avoca and Glenanne.
Outdoors, Corinthian have the chance to extend their lead at the top of men’s division one but face a tough battle with an improving UCD side for whom Robbie McFarlane has been enjoying a productive 2010 to date.
Two Irish Senior Cup second round ties will hope to be decided in Ulster as Instonians host Banbridge while Annadale face Mossley in the Belfast derby. On the women’s side, Corinthian play Glenanne on Sunday in division one while Three Rock Ladies are the only Leinster side left challenging for the Irish Hockey Trophy.
National Indoor Trophy (all at the NBA): Men’s Group I (Sat): 8.30am Railway Union vs Pembroke; 10.10am Glenanne vs Clontarf; 11.50am Pembroke vs Glenanne; 12.40pm Railway Union vs Clontarf (Sun): 9am Glenanne vs Railway Union; 10.40am Clontarf vs Pembroke Men’s Group II (Sat): 9.20am TRR vs Monkstown; 11am YMCA vs Avoca; 1.30pm Monkstown vs YMCA; 2.20pm TRR vs Avoca (Sun): 9.50am Avoca vs Monkstown; 11.30am YMCA vs TRR
Women’s Group A (Sat): 5pm Hermes vs Railway Union Women’s Group B (Sat): 4.10pm Old vs Galway; 5.50pm Old Alex vs UCD; 7.30pm Galway vs UCD
Sunday play-offs: Ladies semi-final: 12.30pm and 1.30pm Men’s semi-final: 2.30pm and 3.30pm
Ladies final: 6.30pm Men’s final: 7.30pm
Outdoor fixtures: Men’s Division One (Sat): Corinthian vs UCD, 2.15pm, Whitechurch Park; Division Two (Sat): Bray vs Weston, 2pm, Loreto Bray; Irish Senior Cup: Mossley vs Annadale, 1pm, The Glade; Instonians vs Banbridge, 1pm, Shaw's Bridge
ESB Irish Hockey Trophy (Sat): Portadown vs Three Rock Ladies, 2.30pm, Edenville; Ashton vs Wexford, 2.30pm, Ashton; Knock vs Catholic Institute, 1pm, St Colman's Park; Greenfields vs Galway, TBC Women’s Division One (Sun): Glenanne vs Corinthian, 3pm, Glenanne Park