As the chase for the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague title heats up, two challengers have emerged from the pack as defending champions UL Eagles and UCC Demons look to race ahead of their competitors.
They both face tricky away challenges this weekend as the lads from Limerick travel to Galway where they play Moycullen, while Demons must journey to Dublin and a match-up with the unpredictable UCD Marian.
Elsewhere, Bord Gais Neptune, fresh off a dramatic midweek victory, host Dublin Inter in Cork, while the team on the losing side of that Wednesday night game, Killester, take on Dublin rivals DCU Saints.
Despite remaining perched atop the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague table, UL Eagles are coming into Saturday’s game after back-to-back losses, which amounts to their worst stretch of the season.
A comforting fact for head coach Mark Keenan however will be that they face a very different team in Moycullen than the two teams that beat them recently, namely DCU Saints and Killester.
While the latter two have a lot of size and bulk, Moycullen rely on quick guard play and could struggle to contain the strength and power of Eagles’ front-court.
Regardless, Eagles head coach Mark Keenan knows that his team needs to regain focus if they are to get the win and set themselves back on track to lift the league trophy again this year.
“It is a very important game for us, “he said.
“After two losses we really need to get some form back, especially with the cup semi-final only a week away.”
“Moycullen are an excellent team and especially in Galway, it’s very hard to get a win against them. We should have a full squad and hopefully Eoin Quigley will be back which would be a boost for everyone.”
Hot on the Eagles’ tail are UCC Demons, who face UCD Marian in Dublin this Saturday. With a game in hand on the league leaders and just one point away, Demons head coach will be relying on his plethora of experienced players to see them through a crucial stretch of the season.
“This weekend marks a big junction in the season.”
“We have rested well over Christmas which we needed as we were feeling strains of players playing a lot of minutes during the first half of the season.
“UCD Marian will be a tough encounter for us as they are very experienced and we still don't know where we are at with our players that were missing during last encounter. They are day to day but they are working hard to be in contention for the game.”
The players in question are the talented trio of Ciaran O’Sullivan, Niall Murphy and Shane Duggan, three players few teams could afford to lose and continue to win. While Demons have survived in their absence recently, Kelleher will not be anxious to test how long such a situation could last.
Demons enter the game after a narrow victory over old rivals Bord Gais Neptune last weekend. The win opened up a three game gap for the top two teams with Neptune and DCU Saints the closest challengers.
Despite the gap, Bord Gais Neptune head coach Mark Scannell believes his team can still lift the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague trophy come March.
“I always thought six losses would be there or thereabouts so while we don’t have much room for error, if we can finish the season on a winning streak I still think we could win the league.”
Neptune overcome a resurgent Killester team midweek and must refocus quickly ahead of a tough fixture with Dublin Inter this Saturday.
“They beat us earlier in the year but we beat them in the cup so there is not much between us,” said Scannell.
“We will obviously have one eye on the cup semi-final the weekend after but it is still a very important league game for us.”
Neptune will be without the services of sharp-shooter Gary Walsh and will have to see how some of their older players, such as Ger Noonan, recover from the Wednesday night battle with Killester.
The final game of the Nivea For Men’s SuperLeague this weekend pits Killester against DCU Saints. Both teams had shaky starts to the season but have rebounded well to enjoy significant wins in recent outings.
Both teams beat UL Eagles while Killester also had the better of UCC Demons prior to the Christmas break. If either side hope to go on to remain, even as outside challengers, they absolutely have to win this weekend.
This weekend’s action in the Nivea Women’s SuperLeague sees Team Montenotte Hotel Cork return to action after their exciting victory over previously undefeated UL Huskies last time out.
The win ended a 45-game winning streak for Huskies and left the ladies from Glanmire just one game back of the defending champions and with a game in hand. This weekend they face Killester in Cork a game few would be expected the home team to drop.
Meanwhile, UL Huskies will be looking to get back to winning ways as they travel to Meteors. While their winning streak may have been snapped, Huskies remain the team to beat and Meteors will have to be wary of a major backlash after that first loss of the season.
Meanwhile, there is a double-header weekend for WIT Wildcats who first play DCU Mercy in Waterford before hitting the road and taking on Singleton SuperValu Brunell in Cork.
The one remaining game of the weekend sees Ulster Rockets host Liffey Celtics on Saturday evening in Belfast.