By Phil Allen
Hockey fans can look forward to a feast of hockey this weekend, as they are simply spoilt for choice where to go.
First up, it is round three of the Irish Hockey League, with crucial games both north and south. Then it is the semi-final stage of the Irish Trophy and the Irish Challenge, with Ulster teams involved in all the semi-finals.
Next, there is Premiership and Senior league action, with one or two relegation battles to be sorted out.
And, finally on Sunday, it is the Linden Cup final between Armagh and South Antrim, and let’s hope they can get it played this time round.
If that is not enough hockey, you can also catch live World Cup action on the ‘box’ from India.
So there you are, take your pick.
Irish Hockey League
Defeat this week in the Irish Hockey League for Lisnagarvey could mean another season without any silverware in the trophy cabinet at their Hillsborough headquarters, and that simply by Garvey standards is unacceptable.
Last week, Garvey squandered a two goal advantage to let their same opponents this week, Three Rock Rovers, progress to the semi-finals of the Irish Senior Cup.
So, Garvey can exact revenge on Rovers by winning, and winning in style, securing a bonus point and keeping their IHL dream alive. They currently top Pool B and a win would put them on course for the May play-offs.
Meanwhile, in the all-Ulster clash between Cookstown and Annadale, defeat for either side could mean they miss out in the finals for another season.
In Pool A, second placed Instonians welcome the current Irish champions, Pembroke Wanderers to Shaws Bridge. In the same fixture last season, Wanderers were strolling to a comfortable win, when Inst staged a remarkable comeback to level it, but they will hope to go one step further on Saturday.
Inst have to decide this week whether to go for youth or experience and bring back Nigel Skillen in goal or go with Ulster Under 21 keeper Alastair Thom, who has been in outstanding form between the sticks the last couple of weeks.
Banbridge head south for their third pool game against Dublin side Corinthian. Both sides crashed out of the ISC last Saturday and a win for Bann could see them back in the reckoning for the play-offs.
Irish Hockey Trophy
It’s the all-Ulster semi-final between Civil Service and Antrim that whets the appetite. It’s a repeat of last season’s semi which Antrim edged 5-4.
Service look to have already the Senior One title in the bag, and have the Irish Trophy fixed firmly in their sights, after missing out last season.
But Antrim, may just have other ideas, as they lost 6-5 to North Down in the final last time around and are determined to rectify that matter.
In the other semi-final, Belfast Harlequins face a tough test when they welcome Dublin side Suttonians, who are top of Division Two in the Leinster league.
Irish Hockey Challenge
Challenge Cup holders Campbellians make the trip to Dublin, where they take on St. Brendan’s in the first semi final.
Campbellians, who are undefeated this season, are poised to step up into Senior One, and look too strong for a side who are languishing in the bottom half of Division Four in the Leinster league.
Larne make the long trip to Limerick this week for the other semi-final clash. Limerick thumped four goals past Portrush in last week’s quarter-final clash, and a Larne side who are struggling to find any form this season, will do well to make it an all-Ulster final.
Premiership and Senior League
If Raphoe can repeat their result last week against Mossley this Saturday, the Premiership relegation battle will go into the melting pot.
Another win this week for Raphoe will see them leap frog from the foot of the table over Mossley and go one point behind Bangor, with two games in hand over the seasiders.
The County Donegal side looked down and out but they are far from it, and will be determined to stay in the top flight.
It is a bottom of the table clash between Down and Queens in Senior One. Defeat for Down will mean a quick return to Senior Two, as they were only promoted last season.
In the other game in Senior One, it is just a matter of who can finish higher in the table, Cliftonville or Portadown?
PSNI will be hoping they can take the runner-up slot in Senior Two, as Campbellians have the title all-but in the bag. They should see off this week’s opponents Ballymena, with Parkview looking too strong for Foyle, and Omagh and Saintfield sharing the spoils.
Linden Cup Final
South Antrim and Armagh will try and play the Linden Cup Final, at the third time of asking, this Sunday (2.30pm).
Already postponed twice because of severe frost, both sides are hoping that the weather pundits have it right this weekend, and the game should go ahead.
As far as league encounters this season, it is one each in games, but in their last meeting South Antrim smashed five past Armagh without reply.
The Lisburn based side are hoping for a top four finish, to book a place in the Kirk Cup next season, when they can take on a couple of the ‘big-guns’ of premiership.
For Armagh, under the experienced eye of coach, Robbi McMinn, it has been somewhat of a disappointing season, with only three wins under their belt.
Lifting the Linden would go some way to make up for their disappointing season, but South Antrim look favourites to complete the double over Armagh, after they defeated them 3-2 in last season’s final.