New pitch new season – hockey is back at Havelock!
The start of August usually signals the dusting down of hockey sticks and training shoes at Havelock Park and this year will be no different as Bann embark on their preseason programmes in earnest next week. There will be an extra bounce in their step this time as the new pitch has been installed and is ready for action.
The ladies 1sts under the guidance of Phil Rankin will look to build on last season’s mid-table finish in the Premier League. They have lost the services of Emma Gregson who has joined Queens but have been boasted by the return of Orla Magee and the capture of Ulster under 18 keeper Cara McEwen. Both will be expected to compete for places in the starting XI.
These additions can only strengthen the squad and they have already been working on their fitness over the summer months. Their preseason fixture schedule is detailed below:-
Sat 11 August – Ballymoney – home
Sat 18 August – Dungannon – home
Sat 25 Fixture – opposition TBC – home
Sat 1 Sept – Pitch Opening Weekend (more details to follow)
Sat/Sun 7/8 Sept – Dublin fixtures
These fixtures will set them up nicely for their opening league fixture on 15 September away to Queens last year’s league runners-up.
Bann will be looking to their talented trio of representative players with Irish under 18 internationals Nadia Benallal and Olivia Berry and Ulster under 17 vice-captain Ellen Reid to make their mark following a successful summer programme with their respective teams. Combined with their new additions and their experiences from last season, Bann will look to push on into the top half of the table this season and who knows a possible challenge for a top 4 position.
The ladies’ programme has been altered slightly this season with the traditional season opening matches in the Denman Ulster Shield now moving to just before Christmas and teams now start straight into their league programme. With this process in place the need for a productive preseason is crucial with vital league points on offer right from the start.
Ladies training started back on the 30 July at Havelock and continues on Monday and Wednesday nights. All new, current, and former players aged 15 and above are very welcome to come down and seek to emulate the exploits of the senior Irish ladies team at the World Cup in London!
On the Men’s side Bann will seek to carry their end of season form in their last campaign into this season. They also open straight into EY Hockey League action with a challenging start on Sat 22 September away to Dublin kingpins and current EY Play-off Champions Three Rock Rovers followed by a home game to Cork Church of Ireland and then away to Ulster rivals Lisnagarvey. A tough opening series of matches but one to provide the spark at preseason training.
Due to the Irish teams involvement in the World Cup just before Christmas the men’s programme will be split into 2 with an almost straight run of games in each stage. Due to a welcome change in the Ulster Branch rules Bann and the other Ulster clubs in the EY Hockey League have been accepted back into the Kirk and Anderson Cups and it is possible these could be played during the EHHL break in December and January to provide clubs with a much appreciated continuous run of fixtures. The Club are currently liaising with the Branch on these new structures.
Bann have unfortunately lost the services of their talisman goalkeeper Gareth Lennox who has decided to hang up his pads after a superb stint as Bann’s net minder. To be regarded in the same vein as Bann legend Robin Carson says it all about the big man who was the heart and soul of the squad for so many years. His vast experience and influence will not be lost however as he will continue in a coaching capacity in Mark Tumilty’s coaching team and this along with the expertise of Paddy Grimes can only help the likes of underage internationals Luke Roleston and Scott Dale as they seek to further improve their club and international performances.
Roleston shared the senior duties with Lennox last season and in him Bann have a very able and encouraging replacement and with the impressive Dale also involved in the senior programme the locals appear to be well set on the keeper front. Both keepers enjoyed successful summer programmes with the Irish under 23s and 18s respectively.
The locals have also recruited the services of Irish under 21 star David Rea from Kilkeel following his major input into their hat-trick trophy haul last season. He is a proven goal scorer and his addition can only strengthen a Bann frontline that stuttered at times last season. He will join forces again with Bann’s Luke Witherow and Alex Tinney who represented Ireland under 23s during the summer.
Rae’s capture will lessen the blow of losing the mercurial skills of Owen Magee who has decided to ply his trade in Belgium next season and everyone at Havelock Park wishes him all the best and we hope to see him back home again very soon.
These changes apart and the progression up to the senior squad of some more of Bann’s talented crop of underage players should hopefully see Bann challenge again at the top of the table. They will hope that senior internationals Eugene Magee and Johnny McKee assisted by the likes of Petey Brown, Jamie Wright and their under 23 internationals will push them on to challenge the likes of Three Rock, Garvey and Glenanne.
Their preseason programme is as below:-
- Sat 25 Aug – Cookstown – home
- Sun 26 Aug – Bowden (Manchester) – home
- Sat 1 Sept – Pitch opening weekend – more details to follow
- Sat 8 Sept – Three Rock Rovers – away
- Sat 15 Sept – Lisnagarvey – home
Match times for these fixtures will be confirmed as soon as possible. Further details on the start of preseason for the men’s junior teams will follow in due course.