** Euro Hockey League first round – words by Alan Good
Lisnagarvey staged the greatest comeback in EuroHockey League history to help them overcome long odds and advance to the last 16.
The Comber Road men, Ireland’s only representatives in this year’s EHL, were staring at early elimination when finding themselves 3-0 down to Lille with 16 minutes remaining at East Grinstead HC on Saturday.
But Timmy Cockram slung in a drag-flick and Philip Stirling swept home 60 seconds later after Mark Raphael had weaved through a sextet of French defenders to give them renewed hope.
Lille lost their discipline and control of the ball as Garvey won a slew of corners in the final minutes, Cockram eventually finding the backboard with a daisy-cutter drag with 60 seconds to go.
In 68 of the 70 previous EHL games where a team had trailed 3-0 they lost the match, but Garvey’s draw meant they needed just to better Lille’s 7-2 loss to Dutch giants Bloemendaal to advance.
Things were looking good at 0-0 entering the final quarter and although Teun de Nooijer’s men managed to score three without reply, it was still enough to send Garvey through on goal difference, becoming the first team from Northern Ireland to do so.
The achievement is also good news for Ireland’s hopes of regaining two EHL qualification berths. Scotland ousted Ireland for eighth place in the rankings and with Kelburne also making the last 16, Garvey going out in this round would have harmed Ireland’s prospects of regaining the initiative. Cork Harlequins can increase Irish chances with a top-ranking finish in next year’s Club Champions Trophy.