Monkstown will be able to select from a full deck for the first time in a lengthy season when they compete in the Euro Club Champions Trophy in Sardinia with the target earning back a Euro Hockey League place for themselves and Ireland for next season.Irish internationals David Cole and Stephen Cole – both long-term injury victims – are back in the mix, giving Graham Shaw a tough decision when trimming a panel of 20 down to 18 for the tournament.
It comes following an intense recent training block with no competitive action since early April when the Town won back to back IHL titles in Banbridge.
Speaking about the break from week-to-week action, Kyle Good admits “it has been tough” to reach the heights in terms of performance. “It has been tough; there was a lot of hockey leading into the IHL when we were at our peak. Then we had this six-week break where we have to maintain fitness and your hunger levels to play.”
Nonetheless, with final exams for a number of players, it did suit Good – among others – to be able to focus on his studies before building toward a big tournament and says top spot is very much in Monkstown’s line of sight.
“We are going into the competition wanting to win and believe we can win it. If we do well, we get into the EHL. We are in good shape and everyone is getting excited now. Managing the heat will be the difficult thing but our games are at good times, early in the morning which will help and we have a good crowd coming along.”
They have a tricky start, coming up against HC Bra at 11am who won the Italian championship last weekend with a final victory over this weekend’s hosts Amsicora having topped the regular season by 11 points. The early time will benefit Monkstown as the heat and humidity won’t be as big a factor as it could be.
Next up, they play Austrian side AHTC Wien, a side who had nine players in the national squad for the Olympic qualifiers in 2012 but have fallen back to fourth in their national championship in the regular season, just scraping into the playoffs. That tie takes place at 1pm on Saturday.
Their last game of the round-robin is against Atasport from Baku in Azerbaijan, a club that has lots of European experience under it’s belt. They played in the Club Championship II in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. From there, they will hope to top the group and play in Monday’s final against one of either Scottish cup finalist Grange, Welsh cup champions Whitchurch, hosts SG.Amsicora ASD and HC OKS-SHVSM from Ukraine.Bann head into the tournament having been pipped to the Ulster Premier League title on goal difference by Lisnagarvey, 10 goals in the difference and reached the final of the IHL, falling to Monkstown in a fiercely contested final to Monkstown.
They bring a squad laden with internationals, Bruce McCandless, Eugene Magee, Philip Brown and Stevie Dowds leading the way. Gareth Lennox marshalled his defence superbly on IHL finals weekend.
They tip-off their campaign against Grammarians from Gibraltar before playing Czech team SK Slavia Praha – current table-toppers in the Czech Republic. They are a physically imposing side, averaging over 6ft per player with Daniel Piterak among their international contingent. Croatia’s HAHK Mladost complete the group.
Depending on how the round-robin goes, Bann mightn’t even have a ranking match to contest on the final day as there are only seven teams competing in this tournament. Three teams make up Group B and they include hosts HC 1972 Rakovnik, Rotweiss Wettingen from Switzerland who were relegated the Champions Trophy and Akkord from Azerbaijan.
Monkstown panel (from): David Fitzgerald, Jamie Carr, Lee Cole, David Cole, Richard Sykes, Ian Horsfield, Keith Kenning, Gavin Groves, Andy Ewington, Graham Shaw, Stephen Cole, Gavin O’Halloran, Nick Dee, David Nolan, Kyle Good, Peter Caruth, David Carson, Ross Watkins, Jazze Henry, Gareth Watkins