A crucial Cork derby on Friday night heads up a three-game fixture list this weekend in the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague.
Aside from the meeting of second-placed UCC Demons and third placed Bord Gais Neptune in the Mardyke Arena on Friday night, the weekend sees UL Eagles travel to Dublin on Saturday to take on Killester while on Sunday it is the turn of UCD Marian and DCU Saints.
With Eagles, Demons and Neptune all tightly packed at the top of the table, Friday night’s result could have major bearing as to where the title resides come March.
“The two teams have an awful lot to gain from the game in terms of league positions,” remarked Demons head coach Paul Kelleher.
“It’s big for them obviously to get back in touch with ourselves and Eagles and for us, we know that with the league so competitive this season, if you take your eye off the ball at all you can quickly find yourself too far behind.”
While Kelleher has been forced to select his team without the reliable services of Shane Duggan who is out with a knee injury, he can look forward to the continued improvement of Niall Murphy and Carlton Cuffe who have both re-joined the line-up after being out of action themselves through injury.
Murphy, who has been side-lined for much of the past three seasons, would be a massive addition to the squad should he remain healthy and regain even some of his past form.
“I think both lads will be a little bit sharper again this weekend in their second game back from their injuries,” said Kelleher.
Meanwhile, Neptune head coach Mark Scannell described Friday night’s game as “vital” for his team if they are to hold onto any title aspirations.
With a full squad of players to choose from, Scannell knows that a loss this weekend will see them fall three games back from Eagles and Demons while the latter will own a tie-breaker should it come down to that courtesy of their win over Neptune in October.
“If we can win we’ll be right back in the thick of things so it is vital that we get the win really,” he said.
The fact that both teams meet again in the cup semi-final in a little over two weeks adds extra drama to the fixture as does the matchup between their American players of contrasting style as the athletic dynamism of Darren Townes for Neptune will square off against the size and strength of Demons’ Kenton Walker.
On Saturday, defending SuperLeague champions UL Eagles will look to remind everyone that the title resides in Limerick where they intend to keep it as take on Killester in Clontarf.
A surprise loss to DCU Saints before Christmas has left a sour taste in head coach Mark Keenan’s mouth and challengers to Eagles’ throne will be anxious to see if it was a once-off result or signs of something more.
“It’s important for us to bounce back after the last result and gain some momentum heading into the New Year. Killester have shown some good form at home and cannot be taken granted,” said Keenan.
The signing of Michael Bonaparte in December has rejuvenated the Dublin club and their last outing saw them come within a basket of Neptune after two late turnovers cost Killester a game they should have won.
On four wins and eight losses they are not genuine contenders for the league title this season but remain very much in the mix for a run at fourth place and a likely spot in the Champions Trophy end of season tournament.
The final game of the weekend sees cross-city Dublin rivals UCD Marian and DCU Saints lock horns. Saints remain within touching distance of the top three, but a loss this Sunday would all but end whatever hopes they have of a title run.
A low scoring 63 52 game between the teams when they last met saw Saints emerge victorious and the league finalists from a season ago would be more than happy to partake in another defensive battle again this Sunday.
Marian have a squad packed with potential 20 point scorers and will be looking to end a miserable 2012 on a high note and move themselves off the bottom of the SuperLeague table where they reside with just three wins from 11 games.