Saturday sees the men’s EY Hockey League Division 2 hit the turf for the first time in the 2021/22 season featuring 11 clubs, divided into three round-robin, home and away groups.
It is an expansion from the eight-team, two group format from the 2019/20 season, accounting for the state of play when that campaign was called short.
The two sides who win their groups with the best record on a points-per-game basis will advance straight through to the EYHL promotion playoff semi-finals. The third best group winner and the three group stage runners-up will go to the quarter-finals.
It starts with Instonians facing Railway Union and Rathgar meeting Cork C of I in Pool 1, Cork Harlequins welcoming Clontarf in Pool 2 and Pool 3 featuring Cookstown against Mossley and Portrane up against Bandon.
Men’s EY Hockey League 2 team-by-team information
Bandon have emerged as serious rivals for Munster honours this term, putting it up to Cork C of I at every turn and they sit just a point off the Garryduff side having drawn twice in normal time – once in the cup, once in the league.
Masters international Dave Smith continues to prove that age really is just a number. Ross Smyth and Eoin Nyhan are continuing their development and have looked really sharp along with rising stars Ian Perrott, Karl Smyth and Ethan Hamilton-Foott who all have some great experience, even at a young age.
Head coach Denis Pritchard has a vast range of experience to call upon and he has laid out the following targets, saying: “Our minimum aim is to maintain our current EYHL2 status. We also aspire to win our local competitions and to challenge for promotion to EYHL 1.”
Clontarf got off to a slow start to the season with losses to Avoca and Portrane in the opening weeks as they adjusted to life after David Lawless (Glenanne) and Mark Duggan (Pembroke) moved on to EYHL hockey while Kevin Mullins went travelling.
But they have since started to amp up their performances with strong performances against Railway Union, Wicklow and Bray, scoring 19 goals along the way.
They are further bouyed by the new turf at Mount Temple which they formally opened last Saturday, celebrating with a 10-1 victory. Davyn Keuter netted a hat trick while former Irish Under-21 captain Sam Grace has linked up with the club and gives them a range of corner options. Luke Hayden has five goals to his name already, too.
The Co Tyrone club come into the EYHL2 as the top scorers in the Ulster Premier League with 51 goals from their seven outings to date, dropping just two points, and still rolling in the Irish Senior Cup following a shoot-out victory over Railway Union.
They face Mossley first up having won 9-1 against their Ulster rivals in September and so will be big favourites to land the points from the opening day. Experienced heads like Greg Thompson, Mark Crooks, Stu Smyth and Ewan Butler joined by the likes of Stewart Wylie and Jack Haycock – a significant corner threat – while they also have a trio of players in the Ulster Under-18 line-up who impressed last week.
Cork C of I
Cork C of I have targeted a return to the EY Hockey League as their primary focus and they have widened their panel well with the arrival of underage internationals Rory Treacy and Ian Balding among key additions along with Neil Pelow from Corinthian to help mitigate against the departure of Kevin O’Dea for college at UCD.
They begun the season in strong fashion, unbeaten to date with six wins out of seven in Munster Division One and through to the Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals.
There is experience from Simon Wolfe, Jason Lynch, Alec Moffett, Phil Sweetnam and player coach Jonny Bruton with Rob Sweetnam among the regular goal-getters.
Cork Harlequins will be keen to make an impact this year with a young panel who are aiming to continue their rise into the adult ranks. Jamie Venner will be looking to command midfield, stepping in to the shoes of Mark Black who has stepped away from the squad due to injury.
Sam Dale, the youngest in the Dale dynasty, will be looking to beat defenders with his injection of pace and has a sharp eye for the goal. Both attended regional development sessions along with Ross Bailey who is vice captain this year. Jack O’Meara also took part in Irish men’s training and his goals have helped drive this team forward. The squad has a good mixture of youth such as John Whyte and Andrew Dale as well as experience from John Hobbs and Dave Egner who will steady the ship. They sit third in Munster Division One after seven rounds of matches.
With Olympians Mark Gleghorne and Mikie Watt in their ranks, Inst have serious firepower and it has helped them hit the current top spot in Ulster’s Premier Division with seven wins from eight league outings and 42 goals along the way.
At the far end, Finley Marney has impressed, conceding just five times in the Ulster league. Stephen Watt coaches the side, bringing his vast knowledge to the table while the likes of captain Stephen Kelso, Gavin Lecky, Andrew Corry and Ben Palmer bring their experience from Inst’s most recent stint in the EYHL top tier.
— Instonians Hockey (@instonianshc) October 24, 2021
Gordon Cracknell’s side line out in Pool 2 of the competition but wait to enter the fray as Cork Harlequins and Clontarf face off against each other in the three-team group on day one.
The Mourne men’s form in the Ulster Permier League has been a mixed bag to date with two wins, two draws and a loss on their card but an impressive draw against Cookstown shows they can be more than competitive with the sides in this division. Luke Russell, Jonathan Aiken and David Rae bring the forward threat while Jedd Campbell is their rising star, lining out with the Ulster Under-21 side this season.
Mossley are contesting their first EYHL2 season having been in the top four mix when the 2019/20 Ulster Premier season was called to a halt. They are currently in seventh place in that league but can take confidence from their competitive performance last Friday evening against high-flying Instonians, former international Simon Todd on the mark.
He brings the experience along with Fraser Mills for Harry McNeill’s side which Matt Anderson captains. Jamie Lyall is a rising star and was recently called up to the Ulster Under-21 line-up.
Portrane are preparing for their first EYHL2 campaign off the back of an incredible recent rise in Leinster, coming up from the lower reaches of the league roster in Division 6 to competing in the top half of Division 1A and winning the 2020 Irish Hockey Trophy.
The early stages of this term has yielded four wins from six outings with last week’s 3-2 success against Rathgar a significant one as was their 1-0 victory over Clontarf.
Ex-Pakistan and Azerbaijan international Imran Khan is still one of the most skillful players in the local game while South African dup Andrew Darroch and Ross Hetem are helping guide a large contingent of players who have developed their hockey in the Fingal region.
A vastly experienced outfit, the side features a string of players who were part of their run to the 2012 Irish Senior Cup including top scorer Mark English – who already has over 20 goals to his name this season – Rob Abbott, Rob Devlin, Kenny Carroll, Stephen O’Keeffe, Richie Forrest, David McCarthy and Fergal Keaveney.
They are the last remaining unbeaten side in Leinster Division 1A, recording a remarkable 38 goals in five games with another 26 coming in three Leinster Cup fixtures.
Simon Filgas joined the Rathgar coaching set up after Ronan Hickey made the move to UCD. He inherits a new-look side with Shane Madeley, goalkeeper Aidan Doyle (both from Three Rock Rovers), Patrick Temperley and Julian Foley (from Dublin University) adding to the ranks while David McCrea, Ricky McMahon and Stephen Ludgate have all returned to the club after stints abroad.
They have had a tricky start to the Leinster Division 1A season with defeats at the hands of Avoca, Railway Union and Portrane and just one win to their name to date. This will be their debut at this level of competition, getting their chance following an excellent run toward the end of the shortened 2019/20 season where they ended level with Portrane on points.
Men’s EYHL Division 2
Pool 1: Instonians v Railway Union, Shaw’s Bridge, 3pm; Rathgar v Cork C of I, The High School, 2.45pm
Pool 2: Cork Harlequins v Clontarf, Farmers’ Cross, 2.45om
Pool 3: Cookstown v Mossley, Coolnafranky, 2.30pm; Portrane v Bandon, Donabate Leisure Centre, 2pm