Banbridge ready for Champions Trophy
When you are hosting a party, the last thing you want is to have to leave early while the rest of the guests enjoy themselves and that's the case with Banbridge this weekend as they prepare for the Champions Trophy event at Havelock Park.
Bann face Three Rock Rovers in the semi-finals on Saturday and, should they win a tough encounter, they will play either Lisnagarvey or Glenanne in the decider on Sunday.
Garvey have already earned a place in Europe next season by lifting the regulation season title and a second spot will be on offer for the final four tournament victors.
"We are looking forward playing in the finals weekend especially at our own ground," said Bann coach Mark Tumilty.
"I think Banbridge HC have shown over recent years we are the best in the country at hosting these events, so it gives our players an added incentive to reach the final on Sunday.
"But Three Rock will be a very difficult game, they have been very good in peaking for the club championships over the last number of years and I am sure this year will be no different.
"They have a good squad with some real quality in Daragh Walsh, Luke Madeley, Jody Hoskins and Mitch Darling.
"We will have to produce our best performance of the season if we are to reach the final. I have confidence in the players that they can produce that performance on Saturday."
Garvey captain James Corry, who successfully battled against cancer a year ago, is looking forward to a hard fought tournament, starting with the Glenanne semi.
"All the games will be very close this weekend. There hasn't been much between any of the teams so far this season," he said.
"Glennane will be very difficult to beat as they know how to get the job done so we will have to be at our very best to stand a chance.
"All focus is on the game on Saturday. We have taken one game at a time this season and that won't change leading into this weekend.
"The squad is very young and will learn a huge amount in the next few weeks so it will be great for their development no matter what the outcome is.
"I am just delighted to have the opportunity to captain this squad as the May 8, 2018 was the day I got the all clear from testicular cancer.
"Now, one year on, we have won the league and are at the playoffs weekend with the Irish Cup final to come on May 12. Bring it on!"
Meanwhile, Pegasus have been dealt a major blow to their chances of lifting the Champions Trophy as they will be without Shirley McCay for Saturday's semi-final with Cork Harlequins.
Ireland's most capped sportswoman has been hit with a controversial two-match ban after accumulating three yellow cards and, having sat out Saturday's game with Belfast Harlequins, she will complete the sanction against their Cork namesakes.
Pegasus feel aggrieved about the circumstances of the 31-year-old's suspension but have had an appeal against it turned down by Hockey Ireland.
The club has no issue with the ban itself but are baffled as to why it only came into force 11 weeks after McCay received the third yellow card on January 26 in an Irish Senior Cup game with Pembroke in Dublin.
However, the umpire failed to report the card within the stipulated 48 hours time-frame and the disciplinary hearing was therefore delayed.
In fact there were NINE EY IHL games following McCay's third yellow card during which the ban could have been served and now, due to the umpire's mistake, McCay and Pegasus must pay the penalty.
Hockey Ireland's Appeal Tribunal upheld the two-match suspension as they 'did not consider there were grounds for appeal because the late submission of the report did not constitute any breach of a rule of regulation' albeit it acknowledged the case highlighted a flaw in procedures and returned the appeal fee to Pegasus.
However, that is of no consolation to the club, who now must do without the 278-times capped McCay for the Cork game, with a place in Europe's top-flight the prize for the winners of Sunday's Champions Trophy final with Loreto and UCD contesting the other semi.
Pegasus chairperson Michelle Rainey said: "Despite the fact that we feel the original sanction of a two-match suspension may seem harsh, we totally appreciate that the accrual of three yellow cards evokes the need for disciplinary action and we did not appeal the sanction itself, merely the timing of it."
"What we remain disappointed by is the apparent lack of appreciation in the correspondence that the timing of the suspension arguably is to be served during a game that has much higher stakes than one during the earlier stages of the EYHL simply because of inconsistency in current procedures."
So Pegasus are resigned to being without their most influential player for the semi-final with a Cork side that ironically won the corresponding Irish Cup semi-final last month when McCay was unavailable due to an Irish training session.
However, they are already guaranteed a place in Europe's second tier next year irrespective of how they perform this weekend, having won the IHL regulation season title.
Pegasus captain Michelle Harvey said: "Obviously, it's going to be even tougher without Shirley and while it's nice to have the fall back of knowing we're already in Europe, we would love to take part in the top flight competition and pit ourselves against the best sides."
Meanwhile, Queen's University have one final chance to join Pegasus and Belfast Harlequins in the national league next season as they prepare to take on Muckross for the last remaining spot on Sunday at Havelock Park.
The students fell agonisingly short of succeeding at the first attempt when they lost to Catholic Institute on penalties in Sunday's IHL 2 final, having been 2-0 and 3-2 up in the game itself.
Queen's coach Simon Bell said: "I was absolutely gutted for the girls - we thought we had done enough to win it and it will be tough to get them lifted again for Sunday but we will give it a go."