Joe Brennan is anticipating a huge challenge as his Glenanne side take on Belarussian, Swiss and Portuguese opposition in the group stages of the EuroHockey Club Trophy in Wettingen this weekend, gunning for a first place finish.
The stakes are high with top spot set to give Ireland a second place in the Euro Hockey League while a finish in the top five assures one spot in the EHL remains in place. After that, the permutations become far more complex.
They are placed in an initial four-team group with top spot going through to Monday’s final while second goes into a third place playoff, third battles for fifth while fourth place leads to relegation.
For the Glens, it is over a month since their last competitive outing when they bowed out of the EY Champions Trophy in the semi-finals 6-0 to Lisnagarvey, albeit a weird game in which they had more shots, circle entries and lots more corners but could not convert.
“It is tough having been so long since our last game,” Brennan said of their preparations. “We have had three good games against the Irish Under-21s – who are a pretty good side, beating us each time – but we have been working off 12 or 13 each time with Shannon [Boucher] and Rixi [Rowland Rixon-Fuller] getting married in the last few weeks.”
The nature of the break has proven another challenge with Jerome Saeys unavailable and Cedric Jakobi returning to Germany, though he is set to play. David Keogh is injured and so will take on a coaching role with Michael Styles.
On the flip side, Iain Walker missed the Champs Trophy but will return to give a big boost between the posts.
The tournament will, in all likelihood, not just be Brennan’s last European campaign but his last game on the field as he looks set to retire.
It will be his fifth European campaign with the club, the first coming in Bloemendaal back in 2001 in the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup before playing in the EHL in both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons.
Most recently, he played at this level in 2015 with Three Rock Rovers alongside McCormack when the hosts finished fourth at Grange Road. That experience gives him plenty of reason to be wary of how hard this competition can be, especially as getting relevant match video of their opposition is very hard to come by.
“We have been training really well and are confident going over but this is a very tough tournament,” he said. “Jonny McCormack has been really good talking about that – he was with Three Rock in 2015 and knows it is so, so difficult. Even hosting, we still didn’t win it.
“The teams from Belarus [SC Stroitel Brest] and Switzerland [Rotweiss Wettingen] have a lot of internationals and are used to playing this kind of competition with four games in four days, adapting quickly to unusual styles of play where it is important to adapt quickly.
“The first game is really important and corners will be crucial, especially for goalkeepers who won’t be used to a flick like Shannon’s. It is really important for us to do well and get that second EHL ticket for Ireland!”
They start their campaign on Friday at 4.30pm at 3.30pm (Irish time) against SC Stroitel Brest; each game will be streamed live on eurohockeytv.org.
Glenanne squad: I Walker, S O’Connor, C Jakobi, S Brownlow, R Rixon-Fuller, J Brennan, N Byrne, J McCormack, G Shaw, J Rogan, R Couse, E O’Malley, S Boucher, B Venter, C Kennedy, G Gibney, K Crosbie
Reserves: A Clayton, S Ronan
EuroHockey Club Trophy (all at Rotweiss Wettingen, June 7-10 – all times Irish)
Friday, June 7: Glenanne v SC Stroitel Brest, 3.30pm
Saturday, June 8: Glenanne vs Rotweiss Wettingen, 3.45pm
Sunday, June 9: Glenanne vs Casa Pia Atletico Clube, 1.30pm
Monday, June 10: classification matches