Banbridge and Lisnagarvey are looking to create history as they travel to Eindhoven over the Easter weekend, bidding to become the first Irish side to reach the last eight of the Euro Hockey League.
Bann face Racing Club de France on Friday at 11.45am (Irish time) while Garvey are in action a day later against Spanish giants Atlètic Terrassa in the KO16 with a win earning them a place in the KO8 later in the weekend.
For the former club, it continues a busy schedule as they rose back to the top of the EY Hockey League last Sunday following seven points out of nine from three league games in five days.
There has been some wear and tear in their panel with Hugh McShane, Jamie Wright, Peter Brown and Matthew Allister all suffering knocks and twinges but most look set to return to the fray. Goalkeeper Gareth Lennox, however, is out as he remains in Ireland as his son is due in hospital with Luke Roleston coming in between the posts.
Speaking about the situation, coach Mark Tumilty said: “The injury situation has improved thankfully and we hope the players will be available for the Racing game. We had them assessed on Tuesday night and the news was more positive than expected.”
Bann meet the French champions having successfully negotiated ROUND1 last October on home turf, beating another French side, Saint Germain, before drawing with Belgium’s Royal Leopold to top their group. They found out their draw in November, something which “seems a long time ago now” for Tumilty.
“We had a fantastic experience at Banbridge and are now focused on Eindhoven and the Racing game. We have had an excellent season to date and now have an opportunity to add to that by trying to reach KO8. Our guys are now fully focused on EHL.”
For Lisnagarvey, they meet an Atlètic side who are aiming to reach the FINAL4 for the second successive season. Garvey also have to make a couple of changes to their squad with Michael Robson not eligible as he joined the club from Annadale after the European deadline.
Timmy Cockram is also unavailable. Irish internationals Paul Gleghorne and Sean Murray have knocks but are likely to play a part on Saturday at 9.30am (Irish time).
Speaking about their chances, Jonathan Bell said of his side’s chances: “It’s clear we haven’t yet hit the heights that we did last season but we have undergone a bit of transition with a number of players stepping down at the end of last season.
“The side is beginning to gel and it’s important to peak at the right time. We have plenty of quality and confidence is high off the back of a big win last weekend.
“Most of our guys are used to performing on the big stage and I’m confident we can rise to the occasion and put in a strong performance against Terrassa.”
Like Tumilty, Bell says that it has been a long time since Garvey found out their EHL fate but now the focus is firmly fixed on Eindhoven.
“We have tried to put the EHL to the back of our minds to focus on the Irish Hockey League,” he said. “But the prospect of playing in the EHL always provides added motivation during the season. It creates healthy competition within the squad and the wider club members at Lisnagarvey always relish a trip to Europe.
“Terrassa are a side that has been performing at the top end of European club hockey for some time. We have a reasonable idea how they like to play and where their strengths lie. But we will focus on our preparation and aim to impose our personal and team strengths on the game.”
** All matches will be streamed live via the EHL website – http://www.ehlhockey.tv/