Writes PRO Tom Cotter
Cork Harlequins men’s hockey team start their new season this weekend against familiar foes they haven’t faced in some time.
Their first team face Church of Ireland (COI) in a Munster league game for the first time in years after seasons of contrasting fortunes.
Last year Quins won three trophies, including Division 1 of the Munster league, going through the league unbeaten and only losing one game during the season.
Church of Ireland, who played at the highest level of club hockey in Ireland last year in the EY Hockey League (EYHL), were unlucky to be relegated to the second division, EYHL 2.
This means they will play in the Munster league for the first time in many years (the 2014/2015 season), alongside the EYHL 2, which is a shortened league that runs in conjunction with provincial leagues.
Quins and COI used to be the pre-eminent teams in Munster for much of the 1990s to the early years of the 2010s, with their fixtures being the biggest derby in Munster hockey.
Their formerly fierce rivalry will be renewed this Saturday at Harlequin Park, Farmer’s Cross where both sides will hope to get their league campaigns off to the best possible start at 2.30pm.
Cork Harlequins will face their first ever EYHL 2 campaign, after being founder members of the Irish Hockey League (now EYHL) back in the 2008/2009 season.
They face tough opposition in Pool B of EYHL 2 in Dublin’s Clontarf, Tyrone’s Cookstown and county Down’s Kilkeel. All sides play each home and away, with the top two playing off against the top two in Pool A in semi-finals. The winners play a final and the winning team is promoted to EYHL, making the task a difficult one for a Quins team with a lot of young players.
The runner up plays the ninth place finisher in EYHL to decide who will play in EYHL in the following season.
Following the Munster league game against Church of Ireland, as Quins face EYHL side Corinthians in the first round of the Irish Senior Cup on 5 October. Quins are the last men’s team from Munster to win the Irish Senior Cup, a feat they achieved in 2012.
Coach Stephen Dale is looking forward to Saturday’s league opener. “I can’t wait to test ourselves against COI again. They have been the top team in the province for years. They will be raging hot favourites for Saturday and for the league but let’s see what happens.”
With a squad that’s full of the young and not so young, Harlequins can’t be sure how their first season in EYHL 2 will go.
For the coach, he hopes to build on last year’s success and be competitive in EYHL 2. “Qualification for EYHL2 next year is through your league position this year and unless we win EYHL 2 or win the playoff to qualify for EYHL, the Munster league and finishing in the top two is our main priority. That guarantees Irish league hockey next season.”
There are three Dales involved in the Quins first team this year with Stephen’s sons Julian and Andrew part of the forward line. Julian is already a senior Irish international but is it hard to coach your sons?
“No, it’s not difficult coaching two of your sons. They are great lads and have the team at heart. They are no different to any other players on the squad when it comes to training and match days. I think it would be harder to coach a team if your sons were playing against you,” he adds.
Harlequins’ centenary takes place in five years with the club aiming to get their men’s side back amongst the elite of the game in Ireland.
Their women’s side, of course, has been amongst the elite for years now, winning an Irish Senior Cup last year, despite the absence of some key players for the final, including Irish internationals Yvonne O’Byrne and Cliodhna Sargent.
They have been stalwarts in the EYHL, usually close to the top four and consistently among the best teams in the league despite the arduous travel involved.
They start their league season in November in the EYHL against UCD, but their season proper begins a few weeks earlier.
Their defence of the Irish Senior Cup begins away against Pembroke Wanderers of Dublin on 28 September. They will hope to win that and progress and keep the cup in Farmer’s Cross for as long as possible.
Their dramatic win on penalties last May against Dublin’s Loreto was the first by a Munster side since 2000 and only the second since the 1930s, highlighting just what an achievement it was.
They lost finals in 2017 and 2003 after taking that win in 2000.
The win in May featured eight schoolgirls out of the 18 player squad, so the future is bright. The team also has a number of current Irish internationals including Yvonne O’Byrne who won a silver medal in the World Cup in London in 2018.
The club is keen to gain new members of all ages and levels so if anyone wants to get involved, the training times for men are 7-8.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8.30-10pm.
The women train from 8.30-10pm on Tuesdays and from 7-8.30pm on Thursdays.
Cork Harlequins is located at Farmer’s Cross, Rathmacullig East near Cork Airport. All new members are welcome.
Cork Harlequins’ men face Church of Ireland at 2.30pm on Saturday 21st September.
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