Three Rock Rovers have traversed four time zones this week to represent Ireland at the EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge II in Tbilisi, Georgia, gunning for a top two finish from their seven team competition.
Their trip to Georgia is the furthest east an Irish indoor team has travelled for continental competition, out-doing their 2012 trip to eastern Turkey when they earned promotion in Malatya.
Indeed, only Hermes’ 2004 outdoor trip to Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan goes beyond in terms of distance to Europe’s eastern frontier.
From that 2012 vintage, just Ross Canning and Jody Hosking are back again working off a much younger panel this time with the majority making their debut in European indoor competition.
Crucially, they have the services of Eckhart Geyer, the German teenager who played with the club for the last three seasons while at school in St Columba’s.
He is an expert left-back and played a key role in winning this year’s Irish Indoor Trophy when they beat Railway Union 8-5 in the final, over-turning a loss to the same opponent in the Leinster final a week before.
Outdoor internationals Luke Madeley and Daragh Walsh will rotate at the back while Richard Pautz is another key player.
Ross Canning, meanwhile, is one of the top Irish indoor protagonists, having played in the World Stars team that played in the Pro Series Indoor tournament in Cape Town before Christmas alongside a string of Indoor World Cup winners.
He and his father Liam – who coaches Rovers – have been instrumental in trying to develop the game on the island and they travelled to Berlin last weekend for the World Cup, picking up extra tips.
Between the posts, Stephen Dawson comes in for Conor Quinn who was unavailable to travel while Ben Walker and Peter McConnell also could not make it from the side that won the Irish final.
As for the opposition in Georgia, they start off with a tie against Armenia’s Hrazdan before taking on the hosts Club Tbilisi on Friday evening.
Next is Finnish opposition HC Klippari on Saturday morning before they face Norwegian outfit Kringsja. On paper, the toughest tie comes on Sunday against Lithuania’s Klevas Siauliai before the tournament concludes against Bulgaria’s RHC Lokomotiv whom Three Rock beat in 2012 6-1.
They will be deciding their own fate; should they take one of the promotion places, as 2018 indoor champions, they will be the ones to benefit directly.
Rob Abbott travels as the Irish umpire to the event. No man has been more influential in trying to raise the indoor game in Ireland in recent times and he is currently organising a Leinster Under-18 indoor tournamentin which Rovers, Corinthian, YMCA and Railway Union will take part on February 25.
TRR squad for EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge II (Tbilisi, Georgia, February 16-18): Stephen Dawson, Eckhart Geyer, Luke Madeley, Ben McCrea, Daragh Walsh, Ross Canning (Capt), Jody Hosking, Richard Pautz, Harry Morris, Conor Empey, James Walker.
Tom Goode is in Switzerland where he will the umpires manager while Simon O’Connor will umpire in Prague at the EuroHockey Challenge I.
Full schedule: https://eurohockey.altiusrt.com/competitions/91#matches