A year on from a now infamous 20-10 defeat to KHC Dragons, Three Rock Rovers are facing up to a rematch with the Belgian champions hoping for a vastly different outcome in the Euro Hockey League KO16.
The two sides meet at the KO16 stage of the elite competition with the wild scoreline of 2018 in Rotterdam probably playing a part in bringing an end to the trial of double points for a field goal.
There were mitigating factors, not least the food-poisoning that left nine of Rovers squad struggling with Ben Walker and Luke Madeley both taking “comfort breaks” midway through their classification match.
“Touch wood, we get no stomach bugs again and it will be completely different and hopefully we won’t concede 20 again this time!” captain Jody Hosking says of that experience.
“We knew the night before and by breakfast, half our team was struggling. There was a sense of ‘shit, we’re playing one of the best teams in Europe, how are we going to do this?’ It got to the point where we wondered would we have 11 people out there.
“There was disappointment over the Saint Germain loss (3-2) but I don’t think that affected us. By game time, it was a case of let’s just give it our best shot and put in a performance.”
This year, they arrive in Eindhoven on a 12-game winning streak and they did well in ROUND1 in Barcelona to win a group that also featured Spain’s Junior FC and Racing Club de France.
But Hosking knows this will be en extra step up for the Dubliners who are hoping to become the first Irish club to reach the KO8.
“Dragons are a massive club in the EHL; we are under no illusions that it will be extremely difficult but we have put in the extra sessions to be as prepared as possible for it.”
Nonetheless, Rovers are going through the most successful period in their history. They have won the Irish Champions Trophy for the last two years as well as and Irish Senior Cup, four regional trophies and two national indoor titles.
Add in consecutive European indoor promotions to reach the second tier of competition in 2020 and it is a special time for the club.
They currently look unlikely to win their regular league season crown after a slow start saw them drop 13 points off the pace by February but they have closed that gap to just one point.
“It was always going to be hard to replicate what we did last season when you are that successful in a short period of time,” Hosking explains.
“Trying to get the focus back was difficult so we had a slow start to the season. But once we got the ball rolling, got the focus back, everyone has now forgotten about what happened last season and is looking forward.
“We are very keen on the indoor and it does kickstart the second half of the season but the dip in our season probably came in the first games post-indoor. A large part of our squad was involved in that.
“Once we had recovered from the fatigue, it definitely has helped start our run of results and the lads are much sharper.”
The squad is pretty much the same as last season but they face a very much changed Dragons team.
Despite the departures of Arthur and Loic van Doren, Alex Hendrickx, Victor Wegnez, Nico Poncelet and others, Hosking knows there is so much talent at their disposal.
It has led to Dragons having a mediocre regular season but they replied in kind with a 4-1 playoffs win over top seed Waterloo Ducks in the Belgian quarter-finals and Hosking is looking forward to taking on a few familiar faces in Irish men Shane O’Donoghue and Kirk Shimmins.
“We’ve seen a few snippets of unbelievable goals that have made it onto social media!
“Between Shane and Kirk, they are two world-class players and it will be a massive challenge. But it does give you a bit of confidence knowing that you have played them before and come out on the right side. There’s nothing to be afraid of and that is the attitude we will take.”
Elsewhere, Lisnagarvey will win the men’s EY Hockey League tonight should they beat Annadale in their refix tonight at Comber Road.
Euro Hockey League, KO16: Three Rock Rovers v KHC Dragons, Eindhoven, 2pm (Irish time)
EY Hockey League: Lisnagarvey v Annadale, Comber Road, 7.45pm