Banbridge are hoping a large local support can propel them to EY Champions Trophy glory for the first time as they welcome Three Rock Rovers, Lisnagarvey and Monkstown’s men’s teams along with Pembroke, Catholic Institute, Loreto and UCD for the grand finale of the club season, writes Stephen Findlater.
For Bann, they will bring in the evening crowd for their 5pm against Three Rock in what promises to be a cracker with the two sides playing out a thrilling 2-2 draw in February with plenty of fire thrown at either end.
It is a repeat of the 2019 match-up with Rovers prevailing that day 4-2 but there has been a huge regeneration in both squads in terms of players.
And for Bann coach Scott McCandless, he cannot wait to see what happens: “After the recent disruption, this season has been highly enjoyable return and we look forward to competing in the EYHL Champions Trophy Weekend.”
His side started the campaign slowly, taking just five points from their first five games, but have since gone unbeaten since October.
“After an injury disrupted start to the league, we have gradually raised performances to a desired level. The squad this season is a spilt of youth and experience with the seasoned players providing excellent guidance & leadership to a talented bunch of youngsters that have excelled as the season has progressed.
“Eugene Magee has nonchalantly moved to centre back and alongside Captain Alex Tinney, Peter Brown, Sam Farson, Luke Witherow and Jonny McKee forms the heartbeat to the Bann performance. Owen Magee, Phillip Brown, Hugh McShane and Josh Moffett play key roles in the support act, whilst recent signing from Kilkeel David Finlay has started to regularly add EYHL goals and assists to go alongside his blistering pace.
“Charlie Rowe, Mark Cowan, Chris Curry, Louis Rowe and Matthew McKee have been the stand out youngsters to date with other Schoolboys Ben Pollock, Aaron Baxter and recent Portadown signing Tommy Dobson all having several notable EYHL performances.”
They are up against a Three Rock side who are going for a fourth successive EY Champions Trophy title having won the last three editions to be played in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Amazingly, just five of the 2019 vintage are in situ this time around – Jody Hosking, Ross Canning, Harry MacMahon, Shane O’Brien and Harry Morris (though he is an injury doubt).
Like Bann, youngsters now abound with Evan Jennings, Ben Ryder, Rex Dunlop and Ben Whelan coming through the ranks while experienced stars like Ali Haughton, Mick Maguire and Peter Blakeney have come back into the fold.
Rovers come into the tie off the back of an excellent league run of five successive wins as well as the Leinster Mills Cup title but the EHL Cup last weekend in Spain was a tough one. They beat Austrian side Post SV with something to spare but came unstuck against elite sides HC Rotterdam (6-0) and Hampstead & Westminster (7-1).
How they recover from those three games in four days will be their big test as coach Elun Hack reflection: “I think they did give a good account of themselves against Rotterdam, despite of the score. In phases we were good but, against good sides, you get punished for errors.”
“We played in Spain at a much higher intensity than we would on some weekends at home, so I’m hoping that we can bring that to next weekend. Of course, we are facing quality sides, so we will need to be at our best.”
The first of the men’s semi-finals pits Monkstown against EYHL regular season winners Lisnagarvey with the Dubliners the last team to beat the sky blues in the competition.
Since then, however, Garvey picked Town apart in the return fixture at Comber Road 5-1 and will hope that freshness of mind will serve them well as they bid to pick up a second EY Champions Trophy, winning the first edition in 2016.
It will be one of two meetings between the two clubs in the next eight days with the Irish Senior Cup following next week at Belfield.
For captain James Corry, reckons his side has grown as the season has developed and have the options to make a difference.
“The depth in the squad; we have had a lot of players out with injury and Covid and have used about 22 boys. When people aren’t stepping up, others have stepped up to the task.
“We were missing James Lorimer and Andy Williamson for the Three Rock games, our two flickers, but Ollie Kidd and Andy Edgar stood up and got one each. The younger boys have that bit more experience and can deal with the pressure.”
Monkstown’s issue has been consistency of players available with a large number of injuries leading to some erratic scorelines. They have plenty of experience of the big stage with Geoff Cole, Jazze Henry, David Fitzgerald, Lee Cole, Stephen Cole, David Nolan, Davy Carson, and David Cole playing a role in their three in-a-row series between 2013 and 2015.
Carson and strike partners Jeremy Duncan and Mark Gibbons both hit form late in the campaign while academy graduates Theo Kohlmann, Josh O’Neill, Callum Hewat and Sam Hickmott are all vying to play a part on this stage for the first time.
“This is the weekend all teams want to be involved in at the start of the season so we are exactly where we want to be, in with a chance to win the play-offs and to earn a European spot,” said captain David Cole.
“The last time Monkstown played in the finals weekend was in 2017 so we’re delighted to be back playing at this level.
“The team is raring to go and have been training hard for the last two weeks since the game against Glenanne. We are expecting Saturday to be an incredibly tough battle against the league champions, Lisnagarvey. The games in the regular season between the two teams were very high paced and physically demanding and we anticipate Saturday to be no different.
“Obviously, we had a poor result versus Garvey last month and we’re excited by the opportunity to play them again this weekend. Hopefully we can be successful in Saturday’s match and will have a final to look forward to on the Sunday.”