With Lisnagarvey man Jonny Bell’s career taking in five different continents and well over 50 trips abroad, there are few unexplored corners in the world game for the 34-year-old Olympian.
And yet he admits this week’s EuroHockey Club Challenge I in Copenhagen is a “big unknown quantity” as he hopes to complete a remarkable season for the Hillsborough club with a “quintuple”.
Bell has never been to Denmark for a tournament; their group opponents are all completely new to him having never previously faced opposition from Turkey (Gaziantep Polisgucu on Friday), Croatia (HK Concordia 1906, Saturday) and Slovenia (HK Lipovci, Sunday).
A top two finish in the group would see them advance to a Monday playoff where promotion will be on the line. Succeed and it will be a perfect conclusion to what has already been a remarkable season, winning the EY Champions Trophy, EY Hockey League, Irish Senior Cup and Kirk Cup.
And with all that silverware already secured, Bell said it has not been hard to motivate the side for the extra month of training since their last competitive fixture.
“Everybody has been more than happy to continue on,” Bell said. “Had it been less successful, it might well have been a drag but there’s no issue trying to motivate the guys!”
They travel to Denmark at close to full strength apart from a late doubt over Peter McKibbin who rolled his ankle on Ireland duty in midweek against Spain.
The event itself is a strange place to be for Garvey, and Irish clubs in general. It is effectively a fifth tier competition this season with the post Covid-19 realignment wreaking havoc.
Garvey were unable to travel to a higher tier event in the Czech Republic last October due to travel restrictions and were deemed to be relegated.
This was compounded by the introduction of the EHL Ranking Cup – a bridging competition for this year only which added an extra layer at the higher end of the pyramid – which puts Garvey in this unaccustomed realm.
“The pinnacle is the EHL [Euro Hockey League] and what everyone aspires to but we are going to the tournament we are going to,” Bell said.
“You have to give respect to all the teams there and it is not every day you play teams from Croatia or Turkey or Slovenia.
“It will be a challenge and a big unknown quantity as you are not sure what they are going to throw at you. It will be challenging but we are confident we can get the job done and get Ireland back up a tier.
“With teams like this, they are likely to come up with some off-the-cuff stuff which takes you by surprise. You have to be prepared for the unknown.”
Should they hit their target, it will be Banbridge who get the benefit for 2023 in Europe with a place in EuroHockey Trophy II the outcome.
For Garvey, as Irish champions, they are assured of a place in the elite EHL in late September by virtue of their performances in the Irish season.
Men’s EuroHockey Club Challenge I:
Friday, June 3rd: Lisnagarvey v Gaziantep (Turkey), Copenhagen, 12.15pm
Saturday, June 4th: Lisnagarvey v HK Concordia (Croatia), Copenhagen, 9am
Sunday, June 5th: Lisnagarvey v HK Lipovci (Slovenia), Copenhagen, 11.15am
Monday, June 6th: classification matches, time TBC