BHC Preview – IHL Finals

“Here we go again” is the cry from everyone at Havelock Park as the entire club gears itself up to either compete or act as volunteers in this week’s EY Champions Trophy finals being played at the Lurgan Road venue. This weekend sees the culmination of the first year of the much vaunted EY Hockey League with the finals weekend taking place, regarded by many as the blue riband event in Irish club hockey.

Eight teams, 4 mens and 4 ladies, will battle it out on Saturday and Sunday to be crowned All Ireland club champions and secure a place in European hockey next season. Saturday morning will see the 2 ladies semi-finals followed by the 2 mens semis in the afternoon. Sunday will see the 2 finals in the afternoon which will be preceded by the EY Hockey League promotion/relegation play-offs in the morning as teams finishing 9th in their leagues playing off against the beaten finalists in the promotion playoffs (Sunday 1st May 10.30am Womens playoff UCC v Belfast Harlequins 12.30 Mens playoff Cookstown v UCD).

Bann, backed by Swallow Transport, will face their nemesis over the past 3 years in this competition, Monkstown, hoping to secure their first win against the Leinster kingpins having lost the past 3 finals. Monkstown triumphed at Bann when the locals last hosted the finals weekend and then enjoyed 2 further successes at Grange Road, home of Three Rock Rovers. All 3 games were thrilling affairs with Bann on each occasion having their chances to secure another All Ireland win to add to their success at Lisnagarvey in 2011.

The other semi -final sees runaway EY Hockey League winners Lisnagarvey take on late bloomers Pembroke Wanderers in what is expected to be a tight game but Garvey would be favourites to edge it. The 2 ladies semis see EY Hockey League Champions Hermes take on Ulster Elks while Pegasus and Railway Union do battle in the other. Hermes on the strength of their league form would be regarded as favourites to take the title but the other 3 sides have the firepower and experience to upset the odds.

Bann and Monkstown have locked horns twice this season in the league and there has been nothing to separate the teams with honours even after 2 enthralling encounters which resulted in 2 draws. Bann could count themselves slightly unlucky on both occasion not to break their duck against the current champions however the Dublin side where not at full strength in both games. Both sides will be going at it in the hope of securing their place in Sundays showcase final.

Bann coach Mark Tumilty has only one injury scare with Josh Moffett struggling to shake off a niggling hamstring injury but he has been boasted by the return of classy defender Phillip Brown after a lengthy injury absence. His return has added to Tumilty’s options at the back, an area that will be key over the weekend. Aside from these 2 it will be the usual squad for Bann on duty that has risen and fallen over the season with consistency and opportunity conversion being their main areas for improvement.

Monkstown will be waiting on the fitness of their international forward Peter Caruth who has enjoyed his games against Bann having been regularly on the scoresheet against them. Aside from Caruth it will be the usual squad heavily laden with international experience that will likely take the field against Bann. The likes of the Coles, Watkins, Fitzgerald, Bruton, and Good will all be out to continue the winning streak. This game starts at 5pm on Saturday.

With food outlets, hockey shops, grandstands, large screens, live music, and hospitality area all pencilled in for operation, Havelock Park will be the place to be over the weekend. The local club have pulled out all the stops to put on a show that has not likely been seen at club matches on this island before.