Three Rock Rovers have one of the best chances possible of ending Ireland’s wait for a knock-out win in the Euro Hockey League, club hockey’s biggest competition.
They face Scotland’s Grange in the KO16 on Saturday morning (8.45am, Irish time – live stream available on www.eurohockeytv.org), the friendliest of possible draws for both sides in the reformatted competition.
In the past, Irish clubs have performed well in the group stages, Rovers themselves topping their pool last year.
The EHL switches to a fully knock-out format this term, meaning Rovers – or indeed their Scottish rivals – can potentially break new ground to reach Sunday’s KO8.
After a chastening opening league loss to UCD, the mood is high in the camp following last weekend’s 5-2 away win over Banbridge.
“It was a massive confidence boost before next weekend,” said coach Elun Hack. “The team is buzzing after that, and it will hopefully stand us in good stead for Barcelona!”
He can call on a full strength panel including Ali Haughton who is delighted to be back in blue and brown.
A year ago, he lined out for Racing Club de France against his home club, losing 6-0. He did redeem himself when he played a key role in denying Spain’s Junior FC a similarly large win which ultimately sent Rovers though.
“It was more than just trying to help Rovers but, it was for our own sake, to show some pride… but there was a photo that went around from the club president with me kissing the Rovers crest after that Junior game!
“When I saw the lads winning in the EHL, it started sinking in that I wanted to be back here and playing. After four seasons away, it is going to be great.”
Haughton had been hoping to line out against former Monkstown man Frank Ryan but he has retired from Grange’s line-up along with Todd Mills and Cammy Fraser. There is Irish representation in their line-up, however, with former Fingal man Marcus O’Brien and ex-Ashton School/Cork C of I player Steve Swanton in their panel.
At home, the focus is on the Irish Senior Cup first round. Bandon meet Railway Union for the third time in the past 12 months; the Dubliners won their last meeting in west Cork 2-0 while the other tie was a 2-2 tie at Park Avenue.
But a bumper 9-1 win over Ashton in the league suggests big confidence with Calum Crowley slotting back in nicely while Fionn O’Leary and David Smith make for an exciting attacking line-up.
Railway have won two from two in Leinster with ex-hockey and cricket international Kenny Carroll their key figure along with Canadian Under-21 star Michael MacKenzie.
Up the road, Cork Harlequins’ task is to take down EY newcomers Corinthian who have added Olympian Peter Caruth – who scored for Ireland in midweek – to their ranks as player-coach.
Quins won the title in 2012 and a decent contingent from that vintage are still around like Jason Black, Dave Egner, Richie Gash and John Hobbs trying to guide through the next generation. Julian Dale will be a key figure in doing some damage.
The only all-EYHL tie on the agenda is the meeting of UCD against Annadale with the Belfield hosts looking to add to their two wins from two to date. The Ulster side, meanwhile, are off the back of a chastening 10-1 defeat.
Monkstown face a tester against Instonians at Shaw’s Bridge with the Ulster side winning 8-0 against Ballynahinch and then pushing Banbridge all the way in the Kirk Cup to date.
Dublin University’s date with Mossley is another meeting between two sides from the regional leagues.
Men’s weekend fixtures (Saturday unless stated)
Euro Hockey League: Three Rock Rovers v Grange (Scotland), Pau Negre Stadium Barcelona, 8.45am (Irish time)
Irish Senior Cup – Round 1: Bandon v Railway Union, Bandon GS, 1.30pm; Cork Harlequins v Corinthian, Farmers’ Cross, 2.30pm; Dublin University v Mossley, Santry Avenue, 1.30pm; Instonians v Monkstown, Shaw’s Bridge, 2.30pm; UCD v Annadale, Belfield, 4.15pm
Irish Hockey Trophy – Round 1: Bangor v CI, Bangor Aurora, 4.30pm; Rathgar v North Down, The High School, 2.15pm
Munster Division One: UCC v Ashton, Mardyke, 2pm; Waterford v Catholic Institute, Newtown, 2.15pm