Banbridge’s most famous son Eugene Magee is hopeful his club can put on a show that the “whole town can be proud of” as they become the first Irish venue to host a Euro Hockey League event on October 7th to 9th.
Magee is among the home club’s star attractions, playing a key role in Ireland’s rise in the world game. His drag-flick put the green machine on course for a European Championships bronze in 2015 while his midfield performances helped power the island to a first Olympic berth in 108 years.On the club front, Magee has also made waves, winning an EHL bronze with KHC Dragons in 2012 while he also lined out for HGC in the maiden season of the world’s best club competition.
But Banbridge has “always been my home”, adding that “even when I was playing abroad I always had a special connection to the place.”
And he is looking forward to another marquee day in the Co Down club’s history. Based half an hour away from Belfast and an hour north of Dublin, it is a real hockey-town, with the local school Banbridge Academy providing a strong link to the club.
Indeed, Bann is one of a unique few clubs in Ireland that compete at the top level despite not being based in a major city. As such, their support for the local parish is seldom equaled.
“It will be a great day for hockey in Banbridge,” Magee says of that situation. “We have hosted Irish Hockey League finals in previous years and created a great atmosphere for both supporters and players so really looking forward to the EHL.
“We have always been a passionate club; we play with a lot of heart and I think the supporters appreciate that. Other sports in the local area tend to come to support us too like golf, soccer, hurling and cycling.
“We hope that this EHL will be a spectacle that the whole town can be proud of and if the Irish hockey league finals that we’ve hosted are anything to go by, it should be!”
As for his own EHL history, he says that the tournament has played a “special” role in his career, playing with Dutch finalists HGC and Belgian bronze medal winners KHC Dragons.
“The EHL in HGC was pretty special for me. It was the first time I had played professional hockey. HGC hosted and put on a great show. Playing with legends like Bram Lomans was a great experience.
“I made a decision to go play in Australia in the second part of the season so missed out on playing in the finals [and eventually a silver medal].
“Dragons had some world class supporters following us through our EHL venture. Every EHL experience was made special by them. In 2012, it was a pretty difficult year for me, Ireland just missed out on going to the Olympics but the EHL immediately after that gave me a new goal and I was delighted to have achieved a medal with a great team.”
And now he gets to make new memories with Banbridge in front of his home crowd. They are in a really tough group with a strengthened Saint Germain and a Royal Leopold team who have also added star quality.
“Both will be a tough test for us. The French teams have previously been very good and played with a fast tempo but also very physical. The Genestet brothers will be ones to watch out for on that team.
“Leopold already had a quality side and the addition of Glen Turner will be something that we will have to manage but I think with the talent we have in Banbridge we will put up a good fight.”