Rakovnik here we come!

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Rakovnik here we come!  This is the cry from the 40 strong party of Banbridge Hockey Club players and supporters setting off this Thursday morning from Dublin travelling to the Czech Republic.  Bann will be representing Ireland in the Euro Hockey Club Champions Challenge 1 event from 6th – 9th June 2014 in Rakovnik, a small town about an hour south of Prague.

Bann qualified for this event on the basis of their qualification for last season’s IHL final as Monkstown had already secured a place in Europe by virtue of their victory in the Irish Senior Cup and therefore Bann were guaranteed a Euro spot.  Ironically Monkstown have qualified for Europe next season by virtue of their victory over Bann again in this season’s IHL at Havelock Park.

Bann, backed by Swallow Groupage, travel to Europe with a reduced squad of 16 due to exams and work commitments but will be hopeful of topping their pool that includes the club champions of Gibraltar, Croatia, and one of the two Czech sides competing namely Slavia Prague.  The other group has only three teams competing in it with the host club Rakovnik joining Akkord from Azerbaijan and Rotwiess Wettingen from Switzerland.

Bann travel on Thursday and then open up their programme on Friday 6th June 2014 against the Grammarians from Gibraltar who some people will remember with fond affection from their last encounter with Bann.  The Mediterrean based side competed in the famous Euro event at Bann’s previous base at Castlewellan Road back in 1985 and were an instant hit with their approach to the game and their loyal band of supporters.

Next up on the Saturday will be one of the two Czech sides, Slavia Prague who like Bann are experienced Euro campaigners and are expected to be Bann’s toughest pool match.  Bann then their round off their pool games with a clash with Croatian outfit Akkord on Sunday afternoon which again will be a trip into the unknown.  Their final game on Monday will be dictated by their finishing position in their pool but it would be a major surprise if Bann are not in the final match at the top of the pool.

Bann coach Mark Tumilty will have the services of the majority of his usual squad with the exception of Drew Carlisle, Adam Marshall, and Colin Dowds, due to work commitments, and Johnny McKee and Aaron Reid due to exams.  Bann captain Eugene Magee is also affected by exams but he will link up with the team on the Saturday for the final two games.

The squad are delighted to have the company of approx 25 supporters for the trip and their support will be much appreciated for Bann’s afternoon games.  With the weather expected to be in the mid to high 20s the locals will be hoping to continue with their passing game and let the opposition do all the legwork!  This will bring Bann’s season to a close and 4 victories would be a fitting end to a season that didn’t produce any silverware but was still a success on and off the pitch.