The Irish abroad: EHL provides early season highs

Following a great month for Irish participants in the EHL, The Hook this week caught up with a couple of the Irish abroad to get their thoughts on how their respective seasons are panning out.

Only one of the wild geese involved in Europe’s premier competition did not make it through to the KO16 with representatives from Dragons, Club de Campo and Reading all set for more Euro action.

In Terrassa last weekend, former Bangor man, Chris Cargo, netted for his English club side, Reading, as they swept aside Stroitel Brest 7-2 to advance in the EHL before concluding the scoring with a brilliant reverse in a 3-5 loss to Bloemendaal.

Speaking about the weekend, he told The Hook that making it through was the sole objective as the Commonwealth Games had left next to no prepation time.

“Most importantly we got through after having only one game together as a group before the competition. The game on Friday against Stroitel Brest was a complete unknown for us; we had never seen them play before and had very limited information on them so we were pleased to start so well and effectively finish off the game by half time.

“We obviously had the great experience of playing against Bloemendaal on Sunday. We went into the game with no fears and were confident of getting a result but a few soft turnovers in the first half gave away goals, which you cannot do against teams like that. In the second half, we started to gain confidence and play our hockey and were rewarded with goals and chances to make the game closer.

“Overall, it was good to test ourselves against arguably the best team in the competition and it shows us how hard we will have to work but we are very motivated to do well in the competition and match the Reading team of 2003 who won the European Cup.”

From a personal perspective, Cargo has fully recovered from an ankle injury from the tail-end of last season and feels his performance has improved after the summer with four goals in his last three games.

He admits Reading have struggled at times in the absence of their internationals – namely international siblings Simon and Richard Mantell, Jonty Clarke, Iain Mackay and Wales’ Rhys Joyce among others – but they are entering an exciting phase in the season.

“We are starting to get back on track and we have some big league games in the next few weeks against the likes of East Grinstead and Beeston which will have a bearing on where we finish this season.

“I am very settled at Reading now. It’s a great club to be part of with good coaches, a nice setup which is continually looking to be improved and a determination to remain at the top of English and european hockey. I am just enjoying training hard and being part of a team who are looking to win titles continually!”

Irish captain Ronan Gormley, meanwhile, secured his ticket to the Easter KO16 with Club de Campo a fortnight earlier as a Pool B table-topper courtesy of a 6-3 win over Racing Bruxelles and a 2-2 win over Rot-Weiss Koln.

To date, his return to Madrid has been exactly the challenge he had hoped for when he decided to pursue a club abroad.

“Having the opportunity to play and train full-time wherever you are in the world is a great opportunity for an athlete who loves the sport and wants to improve!

“We are training on the pitch four to five times a week with a group of very talented players including Edi Tubau, Oliver Markowsky, Will Schickedanz to name a few.

“We had a really long pre-season this year so, at the end, we were all waiting for the league to start – and when it did we only had one match before the EHL.”

Speaking about the competition, he describes it as an “awesome” weekend.

“Our team really hit form – the individuals in the team have a high level of self-confidence! – and, after a slow start against Racing, we smashed in a few nice goals.

“The pace of the match against Rotweiss was really high and overall we were happy with the performances, not just the results. It is a pity the next round is so far away, as we are all fired up for it already!”

It sets up the possibility of maybe drawing hometown club Pembroke of Glenanne in the next round, something he says would be a great occasion but his main hope is to avoid two time champions UHC.

In Leuven, after a couple of successful EHL campaigns with Three Rock and his Belgian club, Phelie Maguire was reduced to the role of spectator for this month’s hockey.

But, on the domestic front, his club’s fortunes have picked up significantly in recent weeks to see them close the gap on Stephen Butler and Eugene Magee’s Dragons.

After a tough start, they have subsequently won five games in succession including a 4-0 win over Braxgata who featured Brian Doherty and a couple of New Zealanders following the Commonwealth competition.

His side recently added two Argentine internationals, Augustine Mazzilli and Noele Salis, to strengthen their attacking line.

They add extra quality and Maguire had this to say on the comparisons with Irish hockey: “The differences with Dublin are huge. It’s a national league; every game is Sunday at 3pm so it’s easy to plan around. There are no cup games or sideshow events meaning every game has the same level of importance.

“Each team has at least three, four or five foreigners which increases the level of competition, and also has increased the level of Belgian players, giving value to the national team.

“The level of games against the top half of table is quite high. Games against teams at the bottom are not so high but there are no easy games and we must perform each week in order to take the points.”

** Photo of Ronan Gormley playing for Club de Campo vs Rot-Weiss Koln, thanks to Frank Uijlenbroek

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