Senior Hockey Preview
Here we go again! That’s the cry from all at Havelock Park as the mens and ladies senior teams begin their respective programmes next week. The ladies open up with a series of fixtures in the Denman Ulster Shield whilst the men are straight into the nitty gritty of the EY Hockey League. Both will be looking for opening wins to set themselves off on the right foot.
The ladies backed by ABC Insurance will operate in a league format for their Denman Ulster Shield fixtures against Ulster Elks, Portadown, Mossley and Rainey. Bann open their campaign against newly promoted Mossley at home on Wednesday night at 7.45pm and will be expecting a tough game against one of the up and coming sides in Ulster Hockey.
Bann under their new coach Phil Rankin have impressed in their preseason friendlies earning victories in their weekend away in Dublin and at a recent tournament at Lisnagarvey. It is still very much work in progress for their new coach recently recruited from EYHL side Ards. Team selection is still settling down with the addition of some players and departure of others still being finalised.
The locals will view their opening Shield matches, 2 home and 2 away, as vital preparation for the start of their league programme at the end of this month. Their main aim will be to consolidate their league position and avoid the relegation dogfight at the end of the season. Bann’s late run last season saw them avoid the relegation spots and with 2 more wins could have finished comfortably in mid table.
Coach Rankin will be fully aware of the key games for his squad and he will draw upon his considerable knowledge of top flight ladies hockey in Ulster and Ireland to ensure his blend of youth and experience are fully prepared for the challenges ahead. Their main rivals are expected to be Mossley, Rainey, Portadown and North Down with likes of Lurgan, Queens, Ballymoney and Elks expected to fight out the top spots although Bann will be hoping to surprise a few of these teams.
The men open their defence of their EY Hockey League crown on Saturday at home to newly promoted Annadale and will be hoping to put down an early marker of their intentions against the new boys. Annadale however will be striving to make life as difficult as they did 2 seasons ago when they visited Bann and were only seen off by the odd goal following a late Bann surge.
The locals backed now by Select Insurance and Hannath Estate Agents have seen activity in the transfer market with several ins and outs occurring. They have lost the top quality defending skills of international star Matthew Bell who is off to ply his trade with top German side Crefeld in the German Premier League while Irish under 21 star Kyle Marshall has moved to Nottingham University to further his studies in conjunction with his hockey skills at top English side Beeston. All at Havelock Park wish them well and hope to see them back in Bann colours again soon.
Bann however recruited the services of top underage stars Alex Tinney and Luke Witherow from Raphoe and Zack McClelland from Instonians. These three coupled with the return of the experienced James Hutchinson from Belfast Harlequins will offset some of this lost skillset. Scott McCandless has also retuned to boast Mark Tumilty’s coaching team.
The Havelock Park faithful will however have to wait to see the mercurial skills of Olympian Eugene Magee as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained on Irish duty at World League 2 in Johannesburg. Eugene’s return is likely to be around November so he will miss Bann’s glamour trip to EHL Round 1 in Barcelona in early October.
Better news on the injury front for the Bann faithful is that Johnny McKee ironically injured on the same trip as Eugene should be fit for the 2nd league game as his broken collarbone continues to mend. His return and the news that ace goalminder Gareth Lennox’s return for another season has been a massive boast to the squad and should ensure Bann compete at the top level for the major honours again this season.
All in all there is a real buzz around the club at the minute with juniors starting back this week hoping to be stars of the future and here’s hoping the current stars on both fronts can give them something to aspire to. Saturday’s EYHL game against Annadale hits-off at 2.45pm preceded by the ladies against Portadown at 1pm and 2 close games are expected so come on down to support the Bann and enjoy the action!