In the end, Three Rock Rovers won the EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge II in a procession, beating Bulgaria’s Lokomotiv 1929 with a monster 23-2 victory.
It brought their goal tally to 54 from six successive wins in Tbilisi, all 10 outfielders on the mark in securing promotion for themselves for 2019 to Challenge I level along with gold.
But there were plenty of tricky hurdles to overcome along the road. In game one, Armenia’s Harzadan proved a tough nut to crack with Ben McCrea’s second-half goal providing a 3-2 victory.
They had largely been on top in that opening tie but had some star men in Arsen Gevorkyan they had one of the legends of Dinamo Kazan in their line-up alongside 16-year-old Alexey Sobolevskiy who was named player of the tournament.
On the counter, they hit the post and had a one-on-one chance to tie things up in the second half but goalkeeper Stephen Dawson – the former Rover outdoors guesting from UCD – held firm to nick the result.
A 10-0 win over hosts Tbilisi club placed Rovers top on Friday night on goal difference and they remained that way after the third series of games with a 6-2 win over Finland’s HC Klippari, cutting loose in the second half after a 2-2 scoreline at the break.
The best performance came in game four against the other side with a perfect record thus far, Norway’s Kringsja. Rovers burst into a 5-1 lead by the 14th minute with Richard Pautz, Daragh Walsh, Jody Hosking, Harry Morris and Ross Canning all scoring.
Kringsja got a sniff of a chance with two goals late in the first half but another couple of Morris strikes in the 28th and 29th minutes put them in the clear and on course for an 8-5 win.
It meant that promotion was within touching distance but a sleepy start to Sunday morning saw them fall 2-0 behind against Lithuania’s Klevas Siauliai. Canning and Hosking equalised with goals in the three minutes before half-time and a Canning corner early in the second half put them on course for a fifth successive win.
With promotion achieved, gold followed a few hours later. The task was simple enough – avoid defeat by 13 goals. In the end, they swept to a sixth win with an element of overkill.
Reflecting on the weekend, coach Liam Canning said: “Ross [Canning], Richard [Pautz], Jody Hosking and Stephen Dawson were excellent in the spine of the team but all others progressed enormously as the tournament developed. They were all willing to learn and they did.”
He singled out Pautz as one who made a massive difference and was the coach’s player of the tournament, the tactics giving him space and freedom to show his quality. He cannot wait for taking on the challenge again next year and continue the job of rejuvenating Irish fortunes on the indoor scene.
“It’s a pity we stop now for a year but I don’t think we could have done this without playing in Norway before Christmas.”
EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge II results
Friday: Three Rock Rovers 3 (R Canning, J Hosking, B McCrea) Hrazdan (Armenia) 2; Three Rock Rovers 10 (R Pautz 2, C Empey 2, J Hosking 2, R Canning, D Walsh, H Morris, E Geyer) Club Tbilisi 0
Saturday: Three Rock Rovers 6 (R Canning 3, R Pautz, L Madeley, D Walsh) HC Klippari (Finland) 2; Three Rock Rovers 8 (H Morris 3, R Canning 2, R Pautz, D Walsh, J Hosking) Kringsja (Norway) 5
Sunday: Three Rock Rovers 4 (R Canning 2, J Hosking, H Morris) Klevas Siauliaui (LTU) 2; Three Rock Rovers 23 (R Pautz 6, R Canning 6, J Walker 3, J Hosking 3, D Walsh 2, C Empey, E Geyer) Lokomotiv 1929 (Bulgaria) 2
Standings: 1. TRR 30pts (+41) 2. Kringsja (NOR) 25pts (+6) 3. Hrazdan (ARM) 22pts (+20) 4. Klevas (LTU) 15pts (+6)5. Klippari (FIN) 14pts (+4) 6. Lokomotiv 1929 (BUL) 5pts (-43) 7. Tbilisi Club 1pt (-34)