Historic week in Europe beckons for Banbridge Hockey Club
This week sees Bann return to a stage they last graced in the early 1990s when the likes of Norman McGladdery, the Tumilty brothers, and David McAnulty wore the red shirt with pride at Royal Oree in Brussels for the then European Club Championships. Ironically the current squad returns to Belgium but to Antwerp and the leafy surroundings of Dragons Hockey Club for the opening rounds in this season’s Euro Hockey League.
Bann qualified for European hockey’s blue riband event by virtue of their historic first win in last season’s Irish Hockey League. Few at Havelock Park have forgotten the nerve tingling penalty shoot-out wins over Glenanne and old rivals Lisnagarvey that saw the locals lift the silverware and ensure their appearance on the European stage. A further twist sees the tournament hosted at former Bann star Eugene Magee’s new hockey home. Eugene is enjoying his role as a vital cog in the crack Belgium outfit.
Friday morning at 10.30am sees Bann open the competition with a game against French champions CA Montrouge. Not much is known of the French except they played at the same stage in last year’s event and will be keen to improve on two defeats. They are expected to include several current French internationals and Bann can be guaranteed a tough bruising game against a side of similar ability to their own.
Saturday sees the locals with a rest day before stepping up on Sunday morning, again in the early slot at 9.30am, to take on German champions UHC Hamburg. The locals are not expected to push a side reckoned to be one of the best in Europe brimming with full-time professionals from Holland and Germany. The Germans will thankfully not be at full strength due to a couple of injuries but will still be clear favourites to put Bann to the sword.
With 12 teams doing battle in Antwerp in 4 groups of 3 and 2 teams going through from each group Bann will realistically be looking to get something from the French game if they are to progress to the next series of games at Easter. A lack of support is one thing Bann will not be short of as approx 60 supporters will be making their way to the Belgium port city and the squad are very appreciative of the efforts being made by everyone to cheer them on.
Bann leave in the early hours of Thursday morning and will travel via Dublin airport to Brussels with an 18 man squad and management team. Dermy Reay is extremely doubtful with a long standing hamstring injury and Ross Beattie who damaged an ankle in training last week is hoping his injury will clear up in time to allow him to take his place in the Bann engine room on Friday morning. Apart from these two it will be the usual mix of youth and experience that will hopefully propel the locals into the next round next Easter.
The Club are very appreciative of the help and assistance given to them in the preparations and would like to thank everyone who has contributed in any way. Special thanks go to Banbridge District Council, Shoefair Sports, and Kukri Sportswear for all their help. The BBC have also previewed the trip with various TV and radio interviews and an extended web based programme. Again their efforts are much appreciated. The tour party is expected back into Banbridge at approx 11pm on Sunday night.