Hot on the heels of Ireland’s World Cup silver medal success, the EY Hockey League hits the turf in the coming weeks with the women’s competition set to tip off on September 29 with the men’s league starting a week earlier.
It is also a significant season with the national leagues expanding to incorporate a second tier, helping to bridge the gap from the regional leagues to the elite level.
Speaking at the launch of the EY Hockey League, Frank O’Keeffe, Managing Partner, EY Ireland said: “We are proud to support the evolution of hockey in Ireland through the introduction of a second division to the EY Hockey League. This investment in hockey at grassroots level will give players and clubs all over the country an opportunity to excel at their passion and to compete with the highest-performing teams in the sport. The success of the Irish Women in London this summer was a historic moment for Ireland, and we are delighted to be such a close ally to Irish hockey at this very exciting time for the game.”
The men’s EY Hockey League is shaping up to be another close-run battle with the action getting under way on September 22. Three Rock Rovers have won the last two EY Champions Trophy titles under the coaching of Niall Denham and will take on the mantle of favourites this season.
Indeed, they won an incredible six trophies last term including the Irish Senior Cup, the National Indoor Trophy and the EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge II.
They have yet to win the EYHL regular season title, however, finishing second for the last two years. Mitch Darling, Luke Madeley, Ben Walker, Jamie Carr and Daragh Walsh make up a big international quintet while Mark English arrives after many years as Railway Union’s top scorer.
Glenanne won last year’s regular season with something to spare but they will miss the services of Shane O’Donoghue who has taken up a pro contract in Belgium with Dragons.
Banbridge missed the playoffs last season after a slow start but look well equipped to challenge this time with Eugene Magee, John McKee, Peter Brown and Bruce McCandless bringing lots of international know-how.
Pembroke are in a transitional phase with Kirk Shimmins and Alan Sothern moving to Belgium and Mark Ingram to Rotterdam but they do have a new coach, Paudie Carley, with lots of experience of winning top competitions at Serpentine Avenue.
Lisnagarvey are in a similar mode, looking to their youth section to replenish a first team that has seen key players move to Germany.
It means that if the likes of Annadale or Monkstown can put a run together, they can break into the playoff places. Dale, for instance, have brought in Ryan Getty and Andrew O’Hare from Lisnagarvey and Ryan Burgess from Bangor to complement their panel while Callum Robson is fit from the start of the season.
Town will miss Stephen Cole’s guile in midfield but his younger brother David and Dave Fitzgerald are strong personalities to make a difference.
Cork C of I are always a threat with John Jermyn – Ireland’s record goalscorer – continuing to be one of the league’s most threatening corner experts. They have the vastly experienced Denis Pritchard coaching them, taking over from Neil Welch.
Cookstown survived last season by a relegation playoff but have not seen many departures while Callum Anderson, Raymond Miller and Andy McWhirter are back in the mix. Michael Haycock takes sole charge of the side for a 13th year as coach with regular co-coach Stephen Cuddy taking a step back.
YMCA earned promotion with Ben Campbell a go-to man for goals as they spectacularly edged out Bangor for the ticket to the top. It will be their maiden EYHL season, replacing Railway Union and looking to make their mark.
The season follows the same format as the women’s competition with 18 rounds of regular season matches from which the champion will go to Europe. The top four then move on to the EY Champions Trophy for the end of season marquee event.
In EYHL Division 2, Railway – coached by Kenny Carroll – will take their place in Pool A alongside a UCD side who have attracted flying full-back Mark Samuel from Three Rock. Bandon and Bangor renew acquaintances after a number of meetings last term.
The other four team group includes Instonians, Kilkeel, UCC and Corinthian. The top two from each group advances to the promotion playoffs with one automatic place in the EYHL available and another playoff spot against ninth in the EYHL on offer for a ticket to the top.