In the early hours of Friday morning, Three Rock Rovers will become the first side since 1996 to contest the second tier of the men’s EuroHockey Indoor Club Championships in Alanya, Turkey.
They face English champions East Grinstead with a 6.30am start (Irish time) before going on to face Croatia’s HK Zelina later in the day (12pm).
Their group stages end on Saturday morning (6am) against Dutch side SCHC, a club Rovers were previously twinned with, before the eight-team tournament splits into promotion and relegation groups. Waiting on the other side of the draw are French, Swiss, Portuguese and Turkish opponents.
For Liam Canning’s side, it is a whole new realm following back-to-back promotions, winning the D division in Georgia in 2018 before a last-minute goal earned them second place in the C tier in 2019 in Oslo.
In that context, it makes staying up very much the target, a big ask for the lowest ranked side on paper.
“It’s obviously been many years work to actually get to this level of indoor and we are really looking forward and relishing the challenge ahead of us,” coach Liam Canning said of the weekend ahead.
“The first European side I took away was to Cambrai [in 2009] and it was a bit of a Three Rock bobsleigh team but we managed to stay up from our first experience. We have built a couple of teams since and this one has been promoted two times in a row. They’ve had a spell of unprecedented success up until last week.
“There’s a good bit of experience now in the squad and then some lads who have only played a year and a half of indoor so it’s testament to them that they are playing at this level.”
It will be the Rathfarnham club’s second Euro campaign in Turkey, the last an infamous affair back in 2012 close to the Syrian border at a snow-bound Malatya.
Rovers’ kit was initially misplaced by local baggage handlers, leaving Rovers to borrow kit from their rival sides. It left their 12-player panel with only six full length sticks and one child size one for their opening game while goalkeeper Stephen West wore a Finnish helmet along with Bulgarian kickers and leg-guards held together by reams of gaffer tape.
The first game was lost to Norway’s Sagene but, once their kit landed, Rovers swept to victory despite a hostile reception – complete with indoor fireworks – from hosts Anadolu Atesi.
Bath-based West earned goalkeeper of the tournament then and is back in the fold for this tournament along with Jody Hosking and Ross Canning from that vintage.
All their kit has arrived in tact this weekend and the setting is very different – despite driving rain – with the players enjoying a swim in the Mediterranean sea and staying on the main tourist strip.
“The hall is quick, much quicker than anything we are used to but that’s good and we like that. We had a good training session and the setup is good; it is very different from Malatya but I am sure if we arrive in the hall and are playing the hosts, the atmosphere will be as volatile.”
As for the opposition, the coach adds: “East Grinstead are the standardbearers in England, a tried and tested side who have won their national title so many times. We know we are really up against it but we know how they play and testing ourselves.
“No matter what the result, we will raise our standards for how we play and think about the game – everything will be positive.
“Against SCHC, they are a very different opposition and will play a high pressing game I think. Being a Dutch team, they play for entertainment and fun. We can only hope to learn from them and try and match them in as many areas as possible. You never know in these tournaments and there are always surprises.
“The Croatians in our final game are an unmeasured quantity. They will probably be more structured and play more patterns. We are more reflexive and a pattern game doesn’t quite suit our Celtic passion and our want to play the game at a high pace.
“We are there to enjoy the game and maybe we aren’t always as patient as we could and should be. The vital thing is whether we go into promotion or relegation groups, we go into the next phase with a win.
“Especially if we go into the relegation group as we do intend on staying up and keeping Irish hockey at this standard, the highest it has been at for a long time, and giving Railway the chance to have a stab at it next year. We do aim to be back in future!”
TRR squad: Stephen West, Ross Canning, Eckart Geyer, Jack McAllister, Jody Hosking, Harry Morris, David Kane, Ali Haughton, James Walker, Dylan Shirley, Ben Walker, James Kyriakides
Coach: Ross Canning
Assistant coach: Scott Crombie
Manager: Fraser Morris
Men’s EuroHockey Indoor Club Trophy (all in Alanya, Turkey – all times Irish)
Friday: Three Rock Rovers v East Grinstead (ENG), 6.30am; Three Rock Rovers v HK Zelina (CRO), 12pm
Saturday: Three Rock Rovers v SCHC (NED), 6am; afternoon classification matches
Sunday: classification matches