Banbridge and Lisnagarvey received perhaps the most favourable Euro Hockey League KO16 draw possible – other than facing each other – as they look to earn a maiden quarter-final berth in the elite competition for Ireland.
For Lisnagarvey, they will meet Spain’s Atlètic Terrassa. It will be a fifth time playing in the same European competition, meeting in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1998 in the old European Champions Cup and Cup Winners Cups.
Atlètic, the third-ranked Spanish side, reached the FINAL4 of the EHL last season but looked vulnerable in the group stages, struggling by Russian and Scottish clubs.
Crucially, Garvey avoided a potential date with Dutch, German and Belgian giants, something that Olympian Jonny Bell recognised.
“There are no easy games but, looking at Pot 2, the draw could have been worse,” he said. “It’s exciting to play a club with such a distinguished history like Terrassa. We have met on the European stage on numerous occasions in the past which makes the fixture that bit more special and we have an opportunity to create our own little bit of history.
“It presents a great challenge for our young team and it’s one we’re definitely capable of overcoming. But there’s a lot of hard work to be done before then.”
Following their heroics at Havelock Park in October, Bann have been rewarded with a tie next Easter against French champions Racing Club de France.
Racing were the second lowest rated potential opponent and Banbridge coach Mark Tumilty said his side “can take confidence” from beating Saint Germain – who currently top the French league – in the EHL group stages. Neither side from this tie has reached the KO8 before.
“I am pleased with the draw as I am sure Racing are to when you look at the other teams we could have faced. It gives us an opportunity to progress to KO8.
“I feel they will pose a similar challenge to Saint Germain so we can take some confidence from having already beaten them in the group stages. It will be a very competitive game and both teams will feel they have the opportunity of progressing.”
Asked whether he might have preferred a big day out against a big gun, Tumilty said he is happy to wait for a later date to try and take on a bigger opponent.
“I was hoping for a draw like this as it gives us a better opportunity to progress and the potential of a clash with one of the Belgian sides. It is always a great experience to play against the big guns.
“However, we would like to progress as far as possible and this draw gives us a better opportunity. I also feel it a beneficial draw for ranking points for Irish club sides and that is important.”
He jokes that he “would be happy to meet one of the big guns in KO4!” but says his side has been playing well week on week and is relishing each challenge they have faced this term.
“I have been pleased with how we have started the season, the highlight being the qualification for KO16. Our focus at present is to continue to improve our performances in the IHL so, come April, we are ready for the game against Racing.
“I do feel that we can win the game if we play to our potential, it will very tough but it would be a fantastic achievement to reach the KO8.”