Bann return from gallant EHL performances in Antwerp
Banbridge Hockey Club’s first venture to Europe since 1995 ended with gallant displays against CA Montrouge of France and German kingpins UHC Hamburg. A nineteen strong squad along with four staff were accompanied by over seventy loyal supporters as they descended upon Braaschaat in Belgium, home of Dragons HC.
The weekends competition featured four pools of three with the top two teams progressing to the Easter knock out competition in Holland. Bann were paired with two sides who had been there before and so the locals went into the tournament as clear underdogs with nothing to lose. Wit huge crowds attending all games this truly was a special occasion for everyone involved, and Banbridge certainy did not disappoint.
Banbridge HC 3-4 CA Montrouge
Fridays game was the tournaments opening fixture and Mark Tumiltys side went into it with little knowledge of their opponents. Dermy Reay failed a late fitness test whilst Josh Moffett was carrying a niggling hamstring injury. However, Bann were able to call upon the vital experience of the three McCandless brothers and Gareth Lennox to go along with the youth of the Bann side.
Banbridge got off to the worst possible start when the french took the lead ater just three minutes, a neat finish from close range by Cariolet giving the french some breathing space. However, Bann’s defensive lynch pin Ross McCandless did what he does best and levelled for Bann, establishing his trade mark drag flick on the European stage to draw Bann level. This gave Bann the confidence to move forward and they soon took the lead when Scott Forbes deflected home a Ross McCandless cross past the french goalkeeper.
Despite looking the stronger and more energetic side, Bann conceded two quick goals from Thiolon and skipper Durchon in the second quarter to go into half time three goal to two down. Tumilty regrouped his players at half time knowing they had to step up the pace but were hit with another blow when Harou stabbed home a fourth. The Bann forwards rallied and Stephen Dowds pulled a goal back with twenty minutes to play. Scott Forbes was lost due to a stress fracture in his foot and Bann were now maximising with the use of the whole squad. Despite tremendous attacking play Bann could not find that vital touch with Ward, Dowds and Magee all going close. The final hooter sounded which meant Bann now needed to defeat UHC Hamburg on Sunday morning in order to progress to the KO 16 at Easter.
UHC Hamburg and CA Montrouge played the second group game on Saturday morning, with UHC Hamburg eventually putting the french to the sword with a two nil victory.
Banbridge HC 3-5 UHC Hamburg
UHC Hamburg is the most successful team in Euro Hockey League’s brief history, having won the title both in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010. They also claimed the Silver medal in 2008-2009, where they were defeated by HC Bloemendaal. Buoyed on by a superb Banbridge supporting contingent lead by the vocal Matthew Clarke, Bann went into the game with their heads held high knowing that the pressure was firmly on the Germans.
Bann went into the game without Scott Forbes (foot) and Josh Moffett (hamstring). Despite a delayed start due to a frozen pitch, Bann began in the ascendancy and pressed the German defence early on, with McShane, Ward and Dowds all hustling the opposition. Indeed it was the latter who had the games earliest chance, but this was snuffed by Florian Fuchs. Bann captain Gareth Lennox was soon called into action, the big Co-Tyrone man made a world class clearance off the line to deny Ricardo Nevado. Lennox was called into action moments later, rescuing his sides defenders with some outstanding blocks. UHC Hamburg took the lead from their first penalty corner after an infringement inside the Bann twenty five, a second phase strike giving Scott McCandless no chance inside the circle.
The huge Bann support rallied their players and this coupled with some astute changes being made by Mark Tumilty resulted in Bann quickly levelling with the goal of the game from Scott Caruth. A fantastic tackle by Stephen Forbes inside his own half sent the big defender on a sprawling run before releasing Scott Caurth who picked the ball up mid circle and crash the ball past a stranded Nicolas Jacobi.
UHC Hamburg soon regained the lead through Florian Fuchs from close range. At this stage the Germans were well on top and it looked like it could have been a complete rout as they quickly added their third and fourth goals. At four goals to one down Bann could easily have capitulated but they showed a never-say die attitude and Irish international forward Bruce McCandless got the goal he deserved finishing from close range after good play by Dane Ward on the left.
Martin Schultze side soon regained their three goal advantage to dent Banns fading hopes further. Bann responded with a positive attitude after a penalty corner switch allowed Stephen Dowds to rifle home his second goal of the tournament. Bann rallied once more looking for their fourth goal but time was not in their favour. A truly gallant effort by each and every one of the Banbridge team.
UHC Hamburg and CA Montrouge progress to the KO16 stage at Banbridge expense. This tournament and their performances will only spur the squad on in the Irish front in pursuit of more European hockey next season. Elsewhere Cookstown found life tough against two of the strongest sides in Europe. A five nil defeat to Reading HC was followed by another defeat to Amsterdam. Despite battling performances their efforts were in vain against sides littered with international players from across Europe.
Log on during the week to read player reactions to the tournament and also see Photo Galleries of the historic weekend. For game highlights visit www.ehlhockey.tv.