European Champions

Banbridge  6             Akkord HC (Azerbaijan)  3

Banbridge secured the gold medal with a hard fought win over a determined Azerbaijan side in scorching temperatures in Rakovnik this afternoon. In a rather ill tempered match a Stephen Dowds hat-trick was the difference as Bann ended the weekend as winners of the tournament,

The Bann side started the game rather sloppy, with goalkeeper Gareth Lennox having to come off his line quickly twice in the first two minutes to thwart Akkord chances.

This seemed to bring out the best n the Bann side. A lowing passing moved ended with Dowds winning and then scoring a penalty corner high into the roof of the net. Bann nearly had two a minute later as the keeper saved Dowds’ penalty corner effort, and Matthew Bell sent the rebound wide.

The Azerbaijan side gradually came into the game, and forced a couple of penalty corners, but were unable to convert them.

Bann were more clinical though as Josh Moffett latched onto a through ball from Eugene Magee before spinning the defender and slotting the ball low into the left hand corner of the net.

Bann were now on the offensive and Fraser Mills, Bill Malcolmson and Eugene Magee all brought saves out of the Azerbaijani keeper.

However the Bann dominance was short lived as a quick Akkord counter attack saw them win their first penalty corner of the game. The striker then coolly beat the first runner before slapping the ball low and hard under the advancing Lennox.

The eastern European side could and should have doubled their tally a short time later when the won another PC, but they were unable to capitalize from the resulting set piece.

The Bann players were clearly starting to tire in the intense heat and Akkord were enjoying a period of superiority. They didn’t have to wait long for an equalizer. A hard cross-field ball from wide on the left was deflected home near the end of the first half.

The half-time break brought some relief for the Bann players. However the initial stages of the second half followed much the same pattern as the closing stages of the first. Akkord went of the offensive and only two tremendous saves from Lennox prevented them from taking the lead.

The second of these saves seemed to spark the Bann team into life and a quick counter attack saw the ball fall to Owen Magee in the circle. Before he had a chance to take a shot on target he was unceremoniously dumped to the ground by a crude challenge from an Akkord defender. From the ensuing penalty corner Dowds restored Bann’s advantage with a ferocious drag flick, which the keeper, despite his best efforts, could not prevent from finding its way into the bottom corner of the net.

The locals then enjoyed their best spell of the game. Stephen Dowds wasted a glorious chance to double Bann’s lead, holding onto the ball when a pass to Josh Moffett was the better option with only the keeper to beat. Another five penalty corners were also wasted as Bann, who were clearly the better team, struggled to get past a stubborn Azerbaijani defence.

Ironically Owen Magee, who had been the victim of some harsh tackling from the opposition, then saw yellow for Bann after an innocuous tackle. It didn’t alter the flow of the game, as Bann continued to dominate. The lead was increased during this period with Dowds roofing a penalty corner effort that gave the keeper no chance.

The game descended into chaos in the middle of the second half with numerous stoppages and delays to play for numerous infringements by the Azerbaijani players. Two Akkord players seeing yellow for horrendous challenges on Banbridge players. A red card quickly followed this for their player-coach after two similar infringements inside five minutes.

During this time, whilst down to nine players, the Akkord team dragged themselves back into the game, albeit somewhat fortuitously. A forward found himself in the circle unmarked and sent a shot goalwards. But the fact that the shot was somewhat ‘duffed’ seemed to wrong foot Lennox who saw the ball trickle between his legs and into the net.

But this was a mere blip as Bann’s dominance continued. Their hockey was getting better as the game went on. And the lead was doubled again as Bruce McCandless finished a flowing Bann move down the right hand side.

Akkord had one more chance with only five minutes left, hitting a post when they should have scored after the forward had rounded Lennox.

Bann rounded the game off with their best piece of hockey of the entire match. A sweeping counter attack move was tapped home at the back post by Phillip Brown, in what was the last action of the match.

Wild celebrations followed as the final whistle went and Banbridge had secured the Eurohockey Champions Challenge 1 title after completing the weekend with a 100% record. The gold medals were presented to the squad who performed superbly across the weekend in testing hot weather conditions.

Squad: Lennox, Bingham, Forbes, Moffett, Marshall, Bell, McCandless, Dowds, Magowan, E. Magee, Brown, Mills, Beattie, Malcolmson, McShane, O. Magee