The Euro Hockey League (EHL) lands in Ireland for the first time over the weekend as 12 of Europe’s best clubs arrive in Banbridge’s Havelock Park for Round 1 of the competition.
Hot on the heels of Ireland’s first Olympic campaign in over a century, the EHL is another significant event for Irish hockey, giving local fans the chances to see over 15 Olympians – including a series of medallists – up close and in the flesh for the first time.
And Eugene Magee – Bann’s own Olympian – said it is a huge honour for his club to put on such a show with plenty of local support.
“It will be a great day for hockey in Banbridge. We have hosted Irish Hockey League finals in previous years and created a great atmosphere for both supporters and players so really looking forward to the EHL.
“We have always been a passionate club; we play with a lot of heart and I think the supporters appreciate that,” Magee said. “Other sports in the local area tend to come to support us too like golf, soccer, hurling and cycling.
“We hope that this EHL will be a spectacle that the whole town can be proud of and if the Irish hockey league finals that we’ve hosted are anything to go by, it should be!”
The EHL is the equivalent of football’s Champions League, featuring 24 clubs from 12 different countries around the continent.
Round 1 sees four groups of three teams battling it out over the weekend for four tickets to the KO16 stage, the knock-out rounds that take place next Easter. EY Hockey League champions Lisnagarvey enter the competition at that stage.
Banbridge are in a group with French champions Saint Germain who they play on Saturday at 2.45pm before meeting Belgium’s Royal Leopold, a side captained by Olympic silver medallist Elliot van Strydonck, on Sunday at 3.45pm.
“Both will be a tough test for us,” Magee added. “The French teams have previously been very good and play with a fast tempo but are also very physical. The Genestet brothers will be ones to watch out for on that team.
“Leopold already had a quality side and the addition of [Australian striker] Glen Turner will be something that we will have to manage but I think with the talent we have in Banbridge we will put up a good fight.”
Irish captain David Harte will be another star attraction with his Dutch club SV Kampong in Pool A. Their Saturday evening tie with England’s Holcombe at 5pm is another big tie featuring several players who were in Rio.
They share a group with outsiders KS AZS AWF Poznan who play on Friday against Holcombe and Sunday against Kampong.
Three-time champions UHC Hamburg from Germany have a trio of 2012 Olympic gold medalists in their rank. They are in a group with Welsh champs Cardiff & Met and Italy’s SG Amsicora.
Pool D looks a well-matched one with Spain’s Atletic Terrassa, Russia’s Dinamo Kazan and Scotland’s Bromac Kelburne.
The Co Down venue has been transformed for the event with the addition of two banks of seated stands along with a tented village with food stalls and sports shops while there is a full evening programme of entertainment each night.
Each game will be live-streamed on www.ehlhockey.tv where you can also find information about each club, match schedules and all other news about the event. For more information, contact EHL media officer Stephen Findlater on firstname.lastname@example.org or 00 353 86 80 44 238.
EHL ROUND1 fixture schedule
Friday, October 7
Pool D: Bromac Kelburne (SCO) v Dinamo Kazan (RUS), 11.45am
Pool B: Cardiff & Met (WAL) v SG Amsicora (ITA), 2pm
Pool C: Royal Leopold (BEL) v Saint Germain (FRA), 4.15pm
Pool A: KS AZS AWF Poznan (POL) v Holcombe (ENG), 6.30pm
Saturday, October 8
Pool D: Atletic Terrassa (ESP) v Dinamo Kazan, 10.15am
Pool B: UHC Hamburg (GER) v SG Amsicora, 12.30pm
Pool A: Banbridge (IRL) v Saint Germain, 2.45pm
Pool C: SV Kampong (NED) v Holcombe, 5pm
Sunday, October 9
Pool D: Atletic Terrassa v Bromac Kelburne, 9am
Pool B: UHC Hamburg v Cardiff & Met, 11.15am
Pool C: SV Kampong v KS AZS AWF Poznan, 1.30pm
Pool A: Royal Leopold v Banbridge, 3.45pm