Three Rock Rovers are going deep underground for their latest European adventure as they travel to Oslo for the EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge I this weekend.
The Kringsja club venue is “like going into a World War II bunker” according to coach Liam Canning who is leading the club into their sixth European indoor campaign in a decade.
His side have experience of the Norwegian venue already from December 2017 when they played a challenge tournament there, giving them some sense of what lies ahead.
“The venue is about 100 metres underground with two pitches behind a giant metallic door on rollers,” Canning said. “Once you go in, you are in artificial light for the whole day.
“The surface is also slower and stickier than the wooden ones we have played on in Ireland.”
The coach is one of the stalwarts of the Irish indoor scene, developing a passion for the code in the 1980s with the superb Avoca side who were one of the key clubs during indoor’s heyday in Ireland.
With Three Rock, he has managed to forge a strong unit over the last 10 years with his son, Ross, crucial in midfield as the main passer of the ball. Jody Hosking’s dynamism is a feature while outdoor internationals Ben Walker – who has overcome an ankle injury – Jamie Carr, Daragh Walsh and Luke Madeley are quickly becoming accustomed to the game.
In Oslo, they will initially face a fancied Ukranian side OKS SHVSM Vinnitsa and Cardiff & Met on Friday before taking on Italy’s Bologna on Saturday morning in the group.
A top-two finish would keep them in the running for promotion on Sunday while the bottom two in the group are destined for the relegation pool.
Looking at the challenge, Canning senior has researched as much as he can but knows that even though this is the third tier of European competition, it is still a far cry from what Rovers have experienced to reach this stage.
“The Ukrainians will play a very patterned game and it will test our discipline to the hilt. I have seen a good amount of the way they play and they won their first three games last year and were unlucky not to get promoted.
“The Welsh will be like an English league side so maybe a bit similar to us; the Italians, we will wait and see.
“We don’t really play to the same patterns or have as many confirmed set plays. It is a lot more instinctive but we do have three different presses that we are happy with now. It will be very different from anything we have played so far but how we played in the Irish competition will not be anything like what we will show here.
“We are quick on the counter and I think we are physically likely to be one of the strongest which hopefully comes into its own later in the competition.”
The coach will not be in situ for the first game due to work commitments at St Columba’s College but will take over from Scott Crombie on the sideline from game two onwards.
As for their chances, hopes are high in the squad of backing up last year’s success in the fourth tier in Georgia but Canning takes a more measured approach.
“The lads are confident, aiming for promotion two years in a row. Realistically, getting to the top four playoffs would be a tall order. We just don’t play at that level enough here in Ireland but we know we are playing for ourselves [for 2020] and so fifth or sixth will guarantee us a good level again to develop on.”
Men’s EuroHockey Indoor Club Challenge I, Oslo, Norway
Friday: HC OKS SHVSM Vinnitsa v Three Rock Rovers, 9am; Cardiff & Met v Three Rock Rovers, 3.10pm
Saturday: Hockey Club Bologna v Three Rock Rovers, 9am
Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning: classification matches, times to be confirmed