Banbridge coach Mark Tumilty is looking forward to Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated Kirk Cup semi-final clash with old rivals Lisnagarvey at Shaw’s Bridge.
The second semi will be contested by Annadale and Cookstown at a later date. due to a bereavement within the latter club, as all four EYHL teams progressed on their return to the prestigious event.
Dale had to work hard though, having had to come from a goal down to beat Belfast Harlequins 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Bann lost 5-4 to Lisnagarvey in the EYHL on day two of the competition and so will be gunning for retribution on Sunday when both teams will be without their Irish internationals.
Tumilty said: “We are looking forward to the Garvey game, both squads will not be at full strength so it’s a good opportunity for younger players to gain invaluable experience in a Kirk Cup semi-final.
“I watched the Garvey v Inst game and was very impressed with their performance. Errol (Lutton) is developing an exciting young team and we look forward to the challenge they offer.
“I am pleased with the development of some of our younger players and those on the fringe of the IHL squad in the Kirk Cup to date but this will be a step up in class this weekend.
“While the Kirk Cup was not a priority at the start of the season, I feel it is great opportunity to give our younger players experience to playing in front of larger crowds and there aren’t many bigger than the Kirk Cup final on Boxing Day, so we will be going all-out on Sunday with a focus in trying to qualify for the final.
“Regarding IHL teams being back involved - I am pleased Ulster Hockey has agreed to let us back to play in the Kirk Cup as it has provided much needed fixtures.
“I hope having the clubs back involved will lift the profile of the Kirk Cup. Hopefully having the IHL teams involved in the semi finals will attract good crowds for the double-header weekend.”
Meanwhile, the top game in the Ulster Premier League also takes place at Shaw’s Bridge where Instonians face unbeaten Bangor, while NICS v Mossley is another interesting tussle.
On the women’s front, East Grinstead’s gain has certainly been Ards’ loss as Chloe Brown’s former club have been struggling without her in their EYHL campaign.
The 24-year-old is loving her hockey at the English Premiership club.
Brown said: “It’s everything I ever imagined plus more. The past 11 weeks have been amazing, not just for my hockey development but my professional development at the school where I am teaching PE.”
“The standard of the league is good and I believe that it’s higher than the IHL with far more teams fighting for the league positions.
“The game is far more intense and this is the best bit for me as it will develop me as a hockey player.
“We have two-hour training sessions twice a week and we are expected to do our own running programme outside of that so we don’t have to spend time during training working on our fitness.
“East Grinstead have many internationals from all around the world including Great Britain, Wales, Malaysia, Argentina and New Zealand so it’s a league of nations you could say.”
Among the star-studded line-up, Brown is playing alongside two players who won gold with GB at the Rio Olympics in the shape of Sally Unsworth and Sophie Bray.
East Grinstead are currently occupying a play-off spot in the Premier League and lost for the first time this season on Saturday.
They went down 1-0 to Bowdon-Hightown in Liverpool but recovered to beat Canterbury 5-0 at home on Sunday.
Brown’s former club, who are ninth in the EYHL table, have just a solitary point from six games and have scored just two goals after drawing a blank in the first four matches of the season.
On Saturday, they take on Pembroke at Londonderry Park, anxious to take something from the game as there is now a six-point gap between themselves and eighth-placed Railway Union.
Pegasus, who trail leaders Loreto only on goal difference will be fancied to overcome newly-promoted Old Alex in the late slot at the Dub.
And Pegasus will be hoping their local rivals, Belfast Harlequins, can do them a favour by taking something from their game with Loreto in Dublin.
In the Ulster Premier League, leaders Lisnagarvey are at home to Ballymoney while champions Lurgan will be hoping to bounce back after suffering a surprise 1-0 loss to Ulster Elks on Monday night, when they host struggling Randalstown.
Judithe Allen got the only goal of the game at Jordanstown as Lurgan fell to their first defeat after five straight wins.