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Weekend Preview

We're now down to the business end of the hockey season with three Ulster clubs - two men and one ladies - striving for a place in next season's EYHL by one means or another.

Bangor and Instonians could meet in a straight shootout to determine which side plays in the top flight next season while Lurgan carry the local flag in the women's qualifiers. In the EYHL itself, Cookstown's men will be hoping to avoid automatic relegation and instead guarantee a play-off which will determine their fate.

The winners of the final eliminator to be held at UCC's Mardyke HQ will qualify automatically for the EYHL next season and there is a different format for men and women. Bangor face Bandon in the semi-finals with Inst taking on Dublin YMCA in the other tie on Saturday as they bid to make it an all Ulster showdown 24 hours later.

The winners of the final will be promoted to the EYHL while the runners up will face a play-off to determine the second spot on offer. Neither of the Ulster sides will have it easy and Bangor will be looking to avenge a loss to the Cork outfit after losing 3-2 in the Irish Trophy semi-final a few weeks ago.

YMCA did lose 9-0 to Lisnagarvey in the Irish Senior Cup but perhaps a more realistic barometer of the task that faces Inst lies in the fact the Dubliners beat Annadale in the previous round, albeit after a penalty shootout.

In the league itself, Garvey are guaranteed a date with Three Rock in the Champions Trophy at Grange Road next weekend while Annadale are safe from the spectre of relegation. However, Banbridge and Cookstown have plenty to play for and Bann still have a chance of making the final four weekend following a 2-1 midweek win over Garvey.

However, Mark Tumilty's men have a daunting assignment away to newly crowned regulation season champions Glenanne. Cookstown also have a tough task ahead as they are on the road to Dublin to face Rovers while fellow strugglers Railway Union are at Garvey. The Tyrone side have a two-point cushion but if they were to lose and Railway were to win then it would be automatic relegation for the Ulster side.

If Cookstown can maintain that gap then they will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of Sunday's provincial play-off final, as they would face the losers needing a win to stay up.

In the women's EYHL play-offs, Lurgan will be involved in a five-team round robin event, with the winners securing a place in the EYHL and the second placed finisher facing the side that finishes in penultimate position in a play-off for promotion/relegation.

Lurgan recently won the Ulster Premier League for a third year in a row and last year missed out on a place in the top flight after losing a play-off to Belfast Harlequins. On that occasion, Lurgan were without several key players, including Sarah McClure and Charlene Hull, due to the latter's hen weekend which had been planned well in advance.

However, this year they will be virtually at full strength and so are confident they can go one better and qualify, either as qualifying tournament winners or via another play-off. The Ulster champions will be up against tough opposition in the shape of hosts UCC, Leinster champions Muckross, qualifers Old Alex and Connacht side NUIG in a demanding programme involving four 50 minute games in two days.

Lurgan will be without their inspirational coach Robbie McMinn, who is committed to a course in Rotterdam but he will have his players well briefed in advance of the trip to Cork. McMinn said: "It's an unfortunate clash of dates meaning I won't be with the team this weekend and, unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in trying to find a temporary replacement."

"But the girls go into the tournament in great form, having won 17 of their last 19 games and drawn the other two so they are ready for the challenge. Personally, I think it will be a very close competition with very little between the sides and I would maybe make hosts UCC as slight favourites."

"They really impressed me last season while Muckross I know very little about but they will be good technically and a solid unit. NUIG can't be taken lightly and Old Alex, who came through the first phase, will have the benefit of recent competitive hockey and will be more astute to playing the 50 minute matches we will encounter." 

"I think it will be a good tough test but one the girls are looking forward to and, after three domestic titles, they feel ready and keen to make the step up to the IHL should they be successful." 

Meanwhile, in this season's EYHL, Pegasus have had to cram in four games - almost a quarter of their 18-match schedule - into eight days and have a double header at the weekend. On Saturday, they host Ards at the Dub and then, 24 hours later are off to Dublin to play Loreto, and have an outside chance of finishing runners up.

However, either way, it will be Cork Harlequins, whom they will face in the Champions Trophy with holders UCD likely to encounter Railway Union in the other semi. Pegasus started a busy period with a 1-1 draw against Belfast Harlequins on Saturday, then had a similar result in the rematch on Wednesday night. Harlequins went ahead through a Zoe Wilson penalty stroke in the first quarter before Hannah Grieve netted a late equaliser from a set-piece.

Meanwhile in the Ulster Premier, Mossley finished their first season in the top flight in style. On Monday night, they defeated Rainey 2-0 and followed that up with a 5-1 victory over Banbridge on Wednesday when Zara McIlwaine (2), Lauren Mulholland, Kathryn Lorimer and Sophie McDowell were on target.


FIXTURES
Women


Saturday
EYHL:

Belfast Harlequins v Pembroke (2.30pm)
Cork Harlequins v Railway Union
Trinity v Loreto
Pegasus v Ards (2.30pm)
UCD v Monkstown

EYHL Play-offs (Cork):
Lurgan v UCC (10.15am)
NUIG v Muckross (11.45am)
Old Alex v Lurgan (1.30pm)
UCC v NUIG (3pm)
Muckross v Old Alex (4.45pm)

Senior One:
CI v Raphoe (12pm)

Sunday
EYHL:

Loreto v Pegasus (3pm)

EYHL Play-offs (Cork)
NUIG v Lurgan (9.30am)
Muckross v UCC (11am)
Old Alex v NUIG (12.30pm)
Lurgan v Muckross (4pm)
UCC v Old Alex (5.30pm)


Men
Saturday
EYHL: (all 3pm)

Annadale v Monkstown
Glenanne v Banbridge
Lisnagarvey v Railway Union
Pembroke v Cork C of I
Three Rock Rovers v Cookstown

EYHL Provincial Play-offs:
Bangor v Bandon (12pm)
Instonians v YMCA (2pm)

Anderson Cup Quarter Finals:
Kilkeel v Queen's (2.30pm)
Mossley v Newry (2.30pm)

Sunday
EYHL Provincial Play-offs final: (2pm)



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