As the first fortnight of autumn draws to a close, Tonight7:45pm hit off(Wednesday) Banbridge Men’s first eleven begin their new season at Government Headquarters as they face Northern Ireland Civil Service in their first group game of the Kirk Cup.  

Banbridge start the new season off the back of a successful preparation stage with the only blemish coming in a frantic 5-3 defeat in their  pre-season opener against Belfast Harlequins in early August, however since then 3 wins & a draw against leinster Premier League sides have given the side much confidence going into the tonight’s game.  Although there have been no new additions to the playing ranks of the Bann squad, many of the local players, have been training hard and continuing to improve on the International stage for Ireland, this improvement has been clearly evident in pre-season training.  Bruce McCandless continued with former Bann teammates & Irish centurions Eugene Magee and Geoff McCabe in the post Paul Revington era as the senior team attained the first step of World Cup 2014 qualification. Another local looking set to join this talented trio, is young Bann Forward Stephen Dowds, who seemed to have made a major breakthrough in the international scene resulting in his inclusion in World league squad, only to be cruelly denied by injury in training just prior to the tournament. Elsewhere Defenders Drew Carlisle & Phillip Brown continued to add to their senior international reputation with impressive performances in Green. Earlier Dowds & Brown had played starring roles alongside teammates Owen Magee & Matthew Bell as the Irish Under 21’s took apart most of the Eastern Europe as they romped to success in Bratislava.  Phillip Browns younger brother Peter was joined by fellow Banbridge Academy pupil Ben Cosgrove in the Irish Under 18’s as they won the Celtic Cup in impressive style. The marked improvement in the work with the national teams has been clearly evident in pre-season training and hopes are high for a very successful season.  

While no new additions to the squad, there has some personnel leave, on the coaching side Former Irish International Errol Lutton stepped down from his role as assistant coach after a successful three years of service, whilst on the playing side the summer saw the retirement from senior level hockey of Ross McCandless, with over 200 senior leagues goals, he was probably the most prolific penalty corner expert of his generation and will be sorely missed by the Bann Faithful.  

The void in the coaching team has been filled by Scott McCandless as he joins Mark Tumilty on the sidelines, while former Bann Goalkeeper Paddy Grimes also has  made a welcome return to Havelock Park, joining the senior Coaching Panel.   Unfortunately for the new coaching trio,  they go into tonight’s opener missing a number of players, Stephen Dowds, Owen Magee, Colin Dowds, Ben Cosgrove all have failed to recover from injury, while Scott Forbes and Ross Beattie are on holiday.  The exclusion of these players will make tonight’s game all the tougher against a side that have made great strides in the last few years under talented coach Gareth Grundie. NICS only just missed out on qualification for the Irish Hockey League last term and troubled Bann on various meetings throughout, Unfortunately for them they have lost one of their key player makers in midfielder Peter Bland to Lisnagarvey but with other experienced players remaining in their ranks such as Chris Barnes & Connor Alison they will still prove tough opposition on the opening night of the season.  

Bann Squad: Lennox, Bell, Forbes, Phillip Brown, Carlisle, Smyrl, McShane, Livingstone, McCandless, Peter Brown, Ward, Moffet, Magowan, Caruth.