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COI and ‘Quins the pick of opening league games

Wednesday, 18th September, 2019 4:02pm

There’s an air of positivity around men’s hockey in Munster as Division 1 of the Munster hockey league hits off this weekend after the Munster U18s captured a rare interprovincial win last weekend.

In fact Munster won their first U18 title in 15 years staying unbeaten over the weekend in Stormont. Plenty of the players who featured there will also be in action for their clubs this weekend.

Division 1 of the men’s league was a wide open affair last year with three teams vying closely for the title, won by Cork Harlequins, who ended the season unbeaten.

This season is a bit different as Cork Church of Ireland (COI) will feature in the league for the first time since the 2014/2015 season. For the following season the all-Ireland hockey league expanded, meaning that COI no longer played in the Munster league.

Last season’s unfortunate relegation from the EY Hockey League (EYHL) means that they return to Munster, making them the overwhelming favourites, as they’ve been playing at the highest level of club hockey in Ireland for years.

First up for them is old rivals and last year’s champions Cork Harlequins, who boast current Irish international Julian Dale along with a number of ex-internationals. They won three trophies last year, only losing one game during the entire season.

Cork COI though, retain a core of excellent young players along with former Irish internationals John Jermyn, Dave Hobbs and Phil Smith and will be hard to stop.

Bandon were the previous league winners and they too should be right in the mix for the title. Their team is very well-balanced with talent in each line, spearheaded by former international Ali Smith, along with a number of underage internationals. They face another strong team in Waterford this Saturday.

Other Cork teams in the league include UCC, who have a new coach in Andrew Scannell and will hope to rebuild this year, and Blackrock’s Ashton, who face Limerick’s Catholic Institute in a tie they will hope to win this weekend.

Quins and COI used to be the pre-eminent teams in Munster for much of the last few decades, with their fixtures being the biggest derby in Munster hockey.

Their formerly fierce rivalry will be renewed this Saturday at Harlequin Park where both sides will hope to get their league campaigns off to the best possible start at 2.30pm.

Cork Harlequins also face their first ever EYHL 2 campaign. They face tough opposition in Pool B of EYHL 2 in Dublin’s Clontarf, Tyrone’s Cookstown and county Down’s Kilkeel. All sides play each home and away, with the top two playing off against the top two in Pool. The winners play a final and the winning team is promoted to EYHL. The runner up plays the ninth place finisher in EYHL to decide who will play in EYHL in the following season.

Harlequins coach Stephen Dale is looking forward to Saturday’s league opener. “I can’t wait to test ourselves against CCOI again. They have been the top team in the province for years. They will be raging hot favourites for Saturday and for the league but let’s see what happens.”

The coach hopes to build on last year’s success and be competitive in EYHL 2. “Qualification for EYHL2 next year is through your league position this year and unless we win EYHL 2 or win the playoff to qualify for EYHL, the Munster league and finishing in the top two is our main priority. That guarantees Irish league hockey next season.”

Quins face Cork COI at 2.30pm on Saturday 21 September. Bandon HC play Waterford HC at 3pm on Saturday at Bandon Grammar School, while Ashton HC face Catholic Institute at 3.30pm on Saturday at Ashton School.

 

Following the Munster league game against Church of Ireland, Quins face EYHL side Corinthians in the first round of the Irish Senior Cup on 5 October. Quins are the last men’s team from Munster to win the Irish Senior Cup, a feat they achieved in 2012.

 

There are three Dales involved in the Quins first team this year with Stephen’s sons Julian and Andrew part of the forward line. Julian is already a senior Irish international but is it hard to coach your sons?

“No it’s not difficult coaching two of your sons. They are great lads and have the team at heart. They are no different to any other players on the squad when it comes to training and match days. I think it would be harder to coach a team if your sons were playing against you,” he adds.

 

With a squad that’s full of the young and not so young, Harlequins can’t be sure how their first season in EYHL 2 will go.

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