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Big weekend coming up at the EY Champions Trophy

Alex Sherwood, Hockey Ireland

The Irish hockey season reaches its climax at Grange Road, Rathfarnham, this weekend with the EY Champions Trophy, which will decide both the women’s and men’s 2017-18 national champions.

It features the top four from the two EY Hockey Leagues, with both reigning champs once again looking to make their mark in Saturday’s semi-finals and Sunday’s final showdown.

The women’s game

On the women’s side, UCD are very much the side to beat. They won the competition last year in a shoot-out and have since won the Irish Senior Cup and the EY league with just one defeat on their record.

Indeed, under coach Miles Warren, they have lost just once in the last two seasons on the national stage. Their speed on the counter is something to behold with the ability to snap quickly from a defensive platform into all-out attack with just a couple of swift passes.

Loreto have the task of taking them down, and, while the task is a big one, they are the side that has come closest since October, when they pushed UCD to a shoot-out in the Irish Senior Cup semi-final.

Just a single goal separated the sides in February in the league, and it was the last time Loreto lost, embarking on an epic seven-game unbeaten run to snatch the fourth and final Champions Trophy from under Railway Union’s noses.

The other side of the semi-final draw sees Cork Harlequins face Pegasus. The Munster side finished the season second and were, throughout the campaign, UCD’s only major challenger.

They started off with an excellent 2-1 win on opening day over the students, and remained unbeaten until January. But a few too many draws saw them lose ground and have to settle for second.

Pegasus, meanwhile, will be looking to get one over on Quins who raided Queen’s in February to score a big 2-1 league result.

The men’s game

The men’s semi-finals follow in the afternoon with a trio of Leinster sides on the card alongside Lisnagarvey. EY Hockey League champions Glenanne open up against Pembroke in the first semi-final in a classic encounter.

In landing the league, the Glens ended their eight-year wait for a national title, winning out with plenty to spare. While the final margin of success was just one point, they were odds on for the title for long periods, building a 10-point gap that was only reduced once the title was confirmed.

Indeed, their only league losses came in the last week of the campaign, falling to Monkstown and Banbridge. This, in addition to a 5-2 Irish Senior Cup semi-final defeat to TRR, may cause a bit of concern from player-coach Joe Brennan about how they can recover form for the finals.

Nonetheless, it has been quite a return to the top table this season from being well outside the playoff places last term.

The second semi-final is a repeat of last year’s, in which Three Rock beat Lisnagarvey in a shoot-out. Since then, Rovers have won six trophies, including last year’s EY Champions Trophy and April’s Irish Senior Cup along with two Leinster cup titles and two indoor competitions.

Indeed, Rovers are the form team coming into the weekend, with seven league wins in a row as they build toward this title defence, scoring the most and conceding the least in the regular season.

They meet a star-studded Lisnagarvey who have the largest current international selection in their armoury. Their form, though, has been indifferent recently, but if they perform they could be in line for their second EY Champions Trophy success in three seasons.

It all promises to be another epic instalment of the end of season playoffs with the best in Irish club hockey on display.

Weekend fixtures (all at Grange Road, Rathfarnham)

Women’s EY Champions Trophy

  • Semi-finals (both Saturday 5 May)
  • UCD vs Loreto | 10.30am
  • Cork Harlequins vs Pegasus | 12.30pm
  • Final (Sunday 6 May): 2:30pm

Men’s EY Champions Trophy

  • Semi-finals (both Saturday 5 May)
  • Glenanne vs Pembroke | 3pm
  • Three Rock Rovers vs Lisnagarvey | 5pm
  • Final (Sunday 6 May): 5pm

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