Armagh are facing tough battle as they embark on their very first European club championship adventure this weekend in Prague, taking on the EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy.
Railway Union elevated Ireland to the second tier of European for the first time since 1994 with their success in Bratislava a year ago. Randalstown were the last Irish side to contest as high a level of competition, playing a couple of seasons in the ‘A’ division in the early 1990s, notably coming fifth in Russelheim.
But their departure from the top tier in 1995 saw Irish women’s teams not take part until Galway returned to the European fray in 2009.
For Armagh, a big turnover in indoor personnel saw them relinquish the National Indoor Trophy crown, missing out on qualifying for the finals weekend this year by a single goal in the Ulster group stages. From the 2011 vintage, they are much changed with Leah Ewart a notable absentee, switching to UCD.
But coach Niall McCool is looking forward to this weekend’s trip: “We are obviously excited to take part at a European level. It’s the first time in our club’s history to make a euro tournament. The squad has changed dramatically since winning the All Ireland. We have just three players on the squad from last season and are missing key players and set pieces specialists.
“We have been hit heavily this season with injury and at key times. Therefore the outdoor played a bigger priority and needed our focus.
“We lost a few players around Ulster qualifiers time and missed out on All Ireland by one goal in goal difference. So we were close and could have done with a few more games.”
“The B division will be a massive jump up in standard and intensity. It will be very hard to compete with these countries that have a league programme and commit seriously to the indoor programme.
“However, we have always risen to the challenge and feel like we can compete with the other teams. Our first game is against Bowdon Hightown and they have had a great season; they missed out on super six finals but were there all the way.
They are the ones to beat and it will be a wake up call for our first game but what a fixture to set the tone – England versus Ireland.”
EuroHockey Indoor Club Champion’s Trophy fixtures (all at Slavia Praha, times are local):
Friday: Bowdon Hightown (England) vs Armagh, 11.40am; Slagelse vs Armagh, 3.30pm
Saturday: Armagh vs HF Lorenzoni, 9am; playoff game TBC
Sunday: playoff game TBC