Three Rock Rovers are looking to hit the ground running in Barcelona at EHL ROUND1 after a short run-in of domestic matches in preparation for their games with Racing Club de France and Spain’s Junior FC.
They started their season two weeks ago with a dramatic 4-3 loss to Banbridge to a last-second goal before bouncing back to beat YMCA 3-1 last Saturday.
For Irish international midfielder Daragh Walsh, he says they would have preferred some more game-time but is reasonably content with their form.
“It’s obviously difficult preparing for a big tournament like this so early in the season,” he told the EHL website.
“Just two games in, we’ve had a mixed bag of results. Overall, I think we’ve been playing quite well and training at a very competitive level. We felt we played some very good hockey in our opening loss against Banbridge but that our own mistakes really cost us.
“Thankfully we were able to put in a strong performance last week vs YMCA to bring a win into this weekend.”
It will be their second EHL campaign of 2018 having narrowly lost to Saint Germain at the KO16 before playing out a crazy 20-10 result in the ranking match against Dragons.
For that tie, food-poisoning spread through the side but they did rally to score five field goals to bring up their total of 10 under the field-goal counting double rules – now thankfully removed.
“Dragons was a bit of a mad one,” Walsh admits. “We knew obviously it would be an extremely tough game against such strong opposition and only having 10 or so healthy players didn’t help the cause.
“It turned into a bit of a chasing the ball exercise at times. The game finished like a bit of a rugby score line which didn’t flatter us either but, to be honest, I think a couple of our goals were two point corners so it probably helped! However, I’m personally glad that the rule has reverted back to normal for this season.”
As for their EHL opponents, they have a reasonable amount of knowledge on their opponents.
“We know a bit about our opposition so far and know both games will be very tough tests. We know Racing have lots of EHL experience and will be a tough team to beat.
“It will be good to face past teammate Ali Haughton also! From what we’ve seen of Junior they look to play a lot of aggressive, direct hockey which we’ll need to be wary of.”
Racing come into the tie off the back of a 7-2 loss to CA Montrouge in the French league. It follows the departures of players like Antoine Ferec (Oree, Belgium) and goalkeeper Corentin Saunier (Schaerweijde, the Netherlands) while French internationals Jean-Laurent Kieffer and Simon Martin-Brisac are injured.
It means they will not be quite the force that eliminated Banbridge two year ago in the KO16 in a shoot-out and so is certainly one to target.
Junior, meanwhile, are the clear favourites with Gaby Dabanch an EHL legend, a winner with Oranje-Zwart in 2015 and the fifth highest scorer in the competition. He also netted seven times in one game against SG Amsicora while in Royal Leopold colours.
The Spanish side also feature Sergi Enrique, the national captain, Argentine player Mauro Coria and Marc Serrahima but rising star Marc Perellon is out having sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury.
The latter game takes place on Saturday with Junior hoping for a big local crowd to make the short hop from Sant Cugat to the Pau Negre Stadium in Barcelona.
Euro Hockey League, ROUND1 (Irish times):
Friday, October 5: Three Rock Rovers v Racing Club de France, 2.45pm, Barcelona
Saturday, October 6: Three Rock Rovers v Junior FC, 1.45pm, Barcelona