Two huge top-table clashes in EY Hockey League

The top of the table in both the men’s and women’s EY Hockey Leagues could be in for a big shake-up on Saturday with Pembroke meeting Pegasus in the latter while Lisnagarvey host Three Rock Rovers in the former.

With a third of the season almost complete, the main contenders have started to emerge in recent weeks with Pembroke’s women looking to force their way into the reckoning this term.

In the women’s competition, four matches have been brought forward from December due to the Junior World Cup, meaning rematches from the opening days of the campaign when Pembroke drew with Pegasus.

The Ballsbridge club have steadily added strong players to their line-up over the past few seasons with midfielder Ellen Curran (from UCD) and defender Issy Delamer (Trinity) adding real quality this term.

With Orla Macken also pushing for inclusion in the senior Irish setup, Emma Buckley between the posts and the likes of Sinead Loughran, Aisling Naughton and Leah McGuire in the line-up, there is quality in each area of the field.

For coach Gavin Groves, he feels the side are in a good spot, one point behind Pegasus with four wins from six outings to date. A win on Saturday at Serpentine Avenue could potentially see them leap-frog their rivals and go top.

Pembroke’s Ellen Curran. Picture: Adrian Boehm

“We are happy enough with the form we have shown. We had a really tough start to the league so to be sitting in the top 3 at this stage is ok. Every week is difficult and brings a tough opponent but it’s good to be involved in such a competitive league.

“We know how organised and disciplined Pegasus can be so we know we will have to perform well to get the result we want.”

For Pegasus, their tricky forwards Taite Doherty and Lucy McKee have put in serious star turns to date this season to lift the Belfast side to the top of the table at this stage.

There is a wealth of experience at hand with Shirley McCay, Alex Speers and Ruth Maguire offering guidance to new stars like Niamh McIvor and Ella Armstrong.

Craig McGrugan took on the coaching reins this summer and is comfortable with how his side has progressed, saying: “It’s been a very competitive first third of the season with some very tight, exciting games. So far we’ve been making progress game by game but this weekend will be another step up. We will have to perform at our best to come back to Belfast with any sort of positive result

“Pembroke have an excellent side playing a very good brand of hockey. They are a good passing side so the contest in the middle third of the pitch will be key.”

There will be plenty checking their Twitter feeds for score updates just down the road in Milltown where Old Alex – equal second on 13 points – host Belfast Harlequins.

UCD have been the league’s entertainers to date, their matches yielding almost five goals a game. They host Catholic Institute at Belfield in a lunchtime tip-off, an important for the sides in fourth and fifth to keep contact with the leading trio.

Likewise, sixth placed Railway Union meet Loreto for the third time already this term; the first EYHL meeting was a draw while Railway prevailed in a shoot-out in the Irish Senior Cup so expect this one to be extremely tight. Cork Harlequins’ date with Muckross has remained in its original December date.

On the men’s side, there is just one game on the EYHL agenda from which any winner between Lisnagarvey and Three Rock Rovers will catapult themselves into pole position after Glenanne fell to their first defeat of the season last weekend.

It is a back match from early October when Three Rock were involved in the Euro Hockey League in Antwerp.

Lisnagarvey coach Erroll Lutton. Picture: Adrian Boehm

Garvey won their last meeting just over 12 months ago in a cracker at Comber Road 4-2 but Rovers have a much changed line-up since then with five players emigrating for professional hockey or work reasons.

In their stead, Ryan Spencer and Matteo Romoli have made big impacts since joining the club along with the return of Ali Empey, Mark Samuel and Andrew Keane from UCD.

For Garvey, they are more settled in terms of line-up with the three Nelson brothers causing havoc in the forward lines, going on a run of four successive wins in the EYHL.

Coach Erroll Lutton says his side have been “playing well for the last few weeks and we want to build on that in this next period with a run of games with no interruptions up until the winter break.

“Three Rock have certainly been playing some good hockey and scoring quite a few goals. With some new faces in their team they certainly seem to have gelled quickly and found some momentum and consistency early in the season.”

Rovers coach Elun Hack is similarly complementary of Saturday’s opponents, saying: “Garvey are a quality team, and their performance and results over the past couple of disrupted seasons, and before are testimony to that.

“They are a very well organised team, hard to score against, and very dangerous on attack, with some seriously good talent in their forward line.

“Limiting their chances and creating our own is going to be the biggest challenge for us… getting that balance right.

“Our team is coming together nicely; huge amounts of process have been made and some of the goals and performances we have put together recently support that. However, there is still lots of work to do for this group to reach their full potential.”

Three Rock Rovers Matteo Romoli. Picture: Adrian Boehm