EYHL returns as playoff chase heats in earnest

The EY Hockey League returns on Saturday, kickstarting the final chase for places at the EY Champions Trophy which will take place at Banbridge in April.

Pembroke’s women and Three Rock Rovers in the men’s competition had the edge over the Christmas break but it is all to play for as the games come thick and fast in the coming weeks.

In the women’s league, Pembroke have been the season’s sensation, building a five-point lead. The Ballsbridge club have never reached the playoffs before but they look the clear favourites now to land the regular season title and take one of the EY Champions Trophy semi-final spots on offer.

Coach Gavin Groves has been growing his panel year on year and the latest additions have been hugely influential. Irish international Ellen Curran has added an extra level of dynamism to the midfield since her move from UCD while Isy Delamer’s arrival from Trinity complements their defensive options.

At the back, they have been outstanding with goalkeeper Emma Buckley conceding just five times in 10 outings while Leah McGuire, MIllie O’Donnell and Amy-Kate Trevor have ensured no side has an easy ride against them,

Further up the field, the gameplan is all about pace with Sinead Loughran, Aisling Naughton and Sinead Loughran scaring the life out of their opponents with Orla Macken pulling the strings. Gillian Pinder oozes class in a well-rounded team and their run of six successive wins has seen them emerge from the pack.

Their first assignment sees them face a Loreto side who they beat well in the EYHL earlier this season but, in Leinster’s Jacqui Potter Cup, turned the tables in January with a 6-1 success.

For Loreto, four of their panel have been called into the Irish setup and it shows they will be more than dangerous in the second half of the season with a number of established stars back in the fold.

Catholic Institute jumped into second place in the table in January when they won well against Railway Union in a back match and if they can match that when they face third place Old Alex, they will put themselves in prime position for a playoff run.

Alex have endured a number of injuries and absences but still find themselves in the top three with Deirdre Duke, Lena Tice and Nikki Evans having limited availability initially but should play a fuller role in the new year. Goalkeeper Holly Micklem has impressed to get a call into Sean Dancer’s national panel.

Alex are level on 18 points with Pegasus – the Champions Trophy holders – who were the pace-setters until that Pembroke setback but look like they will still have plenty of say in the season’s shake-up with Shirley McCay and Alex Speers being huge influences.

They will be favourites when they meet eighth placed Belfast Harlequins although the Deramore Park club are significantly bolstered by the return of Katie Larmour to the club following the completion of her spell at Rutgers University. On the downside, up and coming player Imogen Graham is out for the timebeing following a knee injury.

There looks to be a major scrap for the top six places which will bring a playoff spot in the new format this term. Loreto overcame a mixed start to rise to fifth, level with Railway Union. 

UCD are just outside the playoff places in seventh after a tough run of form without the injured Olympian Hannah McLoughlin who remains the competition’s top scorer despite missing the last few rounds. She has been back in the fold in the Leinster cup and will be a key figure against Muckross on Saturday. 

Railway Union, meanwhile, welcome Cork Harlequins who have seen Cliodhna Sargent come back into their panel to try and help them rise off the foot of the table.

TRR’s Ben Johnson shoots under pressure from Banbridge’s Sam Farson. Pic: Max Fulham

The men’s competition has already been a rollercoaster with the lead changing hands on an almost weekly basis in the past month with Glenanne, Lisnagarvey and Three Rock all taking turns at the top.

After 10 rounds, the three sides are covered by just two points with Rovers something of a surprise package despite winning the last three EY Champions Trophy crowns.

That is because many of their stars are now playing professionally in Europe with a new breed making their mark. They go to Banbridge with former captain Harry Morris available having only played once before Christmas due to a work break in the US but Ali Empey has moved the other way across the Atlantic for an Erasmus stint.

For Bann, Peter Brown returns from injury having missed November and December with Josh Moffett also available after hamstring problems.

Ulster U-18 players Tommy Dobson and Matthew Stevenson moved to Bann from Portadown just before Christmas and will push hard for EYHL squad places.

Elsewhere, it is derby days all round. Lisnagarvey meet Annadale at Comber Road. For Garvey, they had their own run of six wins in succession which saw them hit top spot before falling 4-3 to Monkstown and drawing 2-2 with Banbridge slowed their progress.

Ben Nelson has been the fulcrum of their attack from play while James Lorimer’s corner expertise has been a vital feature. James Milliken has excelled between the posts.

Annadale are seventh following a productive first half of the season. They landed their first win in several years in the top tier when they beat UCD 4-0 and backed that up with a 4-0 victory against Pembroke. 

Michael and Callum Robson’s return from Germany and Tim Cross’s move from the Dutch Hoofdklasse where he played with Tilburg has been crucial for them. Twice this campaign, they have managed to come back from three goals down to secure points.

Glenanne had made the early running with five successive wins to start the season with ace marksman Shane O’Donoghue leading the way. He has 15 goals to his name already.

They face a tricky tie against YMCA who knocked them out of the Leinster Senior Mills Cup and are buoyed by African Cup of Nations winner Paebo Lembethe in their line-up.

YMCA are just inside the playoff places thanks to an amazing closing salvo to the pre-Christmas schedule. They came back from 2-0 down to beat Pembroke 3-2 for a second successive win.

Monkstown, in fifth, are something of an enigma. Their performances have managed to knock Three Rock, Glenanne and Lisnagarvey off top at different stages of the campaign, picking up seven points out of nine against the top three.

But they have only picked up nine points from their other 21 available to stymie a push for the very top of the table. Their next assignment is against a Pembroke side who sit in ninth place and in the relegation places, one point below Corinthian.

The reds, meanwhile, are in eighth place and while they were disappointed to draw 4-4 last week against Annadale from a 4-1 lead, it did end a run of five defeats in a row. 

They face bottom side UCD who have just one point so far. It has been a steep learning curve for them following a late turnover of players during the summer and while they have been competitive, they only have a draw with YMCA on their record while the departure of Sam Walker on Erasmus also makes things tricky. Kevin O’Dea, though, has been a star man for the Belfielders.

Elsewhere, Sunday sees four more inteprovincial matches going to Grange Road with Munster facing Ulster and Leinster playing Leinster South in both Under-16 and 18 girls competitions.

NUIG meet Avoca in the women’s Irish Hockey Trophy, a tie postponed from before Christmas.


Saturday 5th February 2022


EYHL Division 1: Banbridge v Three Rock Rovers, Havelock Park, 4.15pm; Lisnagarvey v Annadale, Comber Road, 3pm; Monkstown v Pembroke Wanderers, Rathdown, 2.15pm; UCD v Corinthian, Belfield, 2.50pm; YMCA v Glenanne, Wesley College, 2.15pm


EYHL Division 1: Belfast Harlequins v Pegasus, Deramore Park, 2.30pm; Catholic Institute v Old Alexandra, Rosbrien, 1pm; Loreto v Pembroke Wanderers, Beaufort, 1pm; Railway Union v Cork Harlequins, Park Avenue, 1.30pm; UCD v Muckross, Belfield, 1pm

Irish Hockey Trophy: NUIG v Avoca, Dangan, 1.50pm

Sunday 6th February 2022


Irish Under 16/18/21 Inter Provincials 

U16 Interpros: Munster v Ulster, Grange Road, 2.45pm; Leinster v Leinster South, Grange Road, 5pm

U18 Interpros: Munster v Ulster, Grange Road, 4.45pm; Leinster v Leinster South, Grange Road, 3pm