Banbridge and Lisnagarvey clash head-on at Comber Road in the most intriguing tie in round three of the EY Irish Hockey League on Saturday.
Bann will be aiming to make it three wins in a row to consolidate their position at the top of the table while Garvey will be out to secure a second successive victory.
It promises to be a cracking game between two teams who won the regulation season in years one and two of the expanded national league format.
Bann have marginally the more experienced squad, with Eugene Magee always a potential match-winner as the proved in the opening 4-3 success over Three Rock Rovers.
Garvey, in contrast, have lost several Irish internationals, who are now plying their trade on the continent, including Michael Robson, Neil Glassey, Paul Gleghorne and Mark Murray.
However, they recovered from a 2-1 loss to Pembroke on day one to comfortably beat Cookstown 4-0 last weekend.
Bann coach Mark Tumilty will, in no way, be underestimating the challenge that lies ahead of his team on Saturday after they followed up the win over Three Rock with a 3-1 success over Cork C of I.
“We didn’t start the game well against Cork but improved as it went on. They are a difficult side to play against and it took us time to adapt,” he said.
“I was pleased with our final quarter performance and winning the game was important. We are improving but still have plenty more to do, and there is no bigger challenge than away to Garvey.
“Garvey is the biggest game of the year in my opinion and I still see them as one the sides that will be in contention for trophies this year.
“They have a strong squad with plenty of experience plus a good mix of youth. They will be disappointed with the Pembroke defeat but had a good result on Saturday and I am sure they will be looking to build on that against us this weekend.”
Tumilty’s opposite number Errol Lutton has been happy with the way his younger players have been stepping up to the mark in the two opening games.
“As always we look forward to welcoming Banbridge to Comber Road. Both teams have a mix of youth and experience and it should be a exciting game,” Errol stated.
“I’ve seen both Banbridge’s EYHL games this season and they’ve made an impressive start. We were delighted to get off the mark last week against a Cookstown team who had enjoyed an excellent opening day victory against Dublin YMCA.
“What was especially pleasing was the performance of the under 18 players who we’ve recently added to our training panel.
“It’s an exciting time for them to be playing in the EYHL and that has showed in their performances so far. We will look to build on last week’s performance over the next number of weeks with further games away to Three Rock Rovers and Dublin YMCA.
Elsewhere in the EYHL on Saturday, Cookstown host Glenanne while Annadale are still seeking their first points as they prepare for an away tie at Pembroke.
In the Irish Senior Cup, Queen’s and South Antrim are in Dublin on Saturday as they face Railway Union and Clontarf respectively in the first round.
On Sunday, in the second round Belfast Harlequins travel south to take on Avoca while Instonians host UCD at Shaw’s Bridge.
Meanwhile, the three Ulster-based Ireland World Cup players will be aiming to repeat their opening day successes with their clubs as the EY Irish Hockey League continues on Saturday.
Shirley McCay, who scored one of the goals for Pegasus in their 3-2 win over UCD at the weekend, will be a key player in the game with Pembroke in Dublin.
Pegasus won’t be taking Pembroke lightly as they expect to welcome back Irish international Emily Beatty, who missed the weekend defeat to Belfast Harlequins.
Although they lost the game at Deramore 2-0, the Leinster team gave as good as they got for most of the 70 minutes and created more chances but found home keeper Marianne Fox in inspired form.
Harlequins, with World Cup heroines Zoe Wilson and Lizzie Colvin in their side, are also on the road and will be hoping to make it two from two when they take on Railway Union as they bid to avenge a 3-2 defeat at Park Avenue last season.
Wilson scored one of the goals and provided an assist for the other in Saturday’s win over Pembroke and will be an important cog in the midfield along with Colvin.
Ards, who drew 0-0 with Muckross on Sunday, will hope to do better than in their last meeting with UCD, who were 7-1 winners at Londonderry Park in the corresponding game last season.
There’s one Ulster Premier League game on Saturday with Dungannon entertaining champions Lurgan while Banbridge, Ulster Elks and Ballymoney are in Irish Senior Cup first round action on Sunday.
On Friday night, Ballymena entertain Queen’s in the league after both teams hit the opposition for six in their last outings.
Queen’s were 6-0 winners over Greenfields in IHL 2 while Ballymena defeated Rainey by the same score to register their first victory since being promoted from Senior One.