** This article is an adaptation of a piece originally posted on the EHL website
Banbridge’s Matthew Bell says his first experience of the EHL “was unlike anything I had ever experienced before” when, as a teenager, he made his debut in the competition.
The defender has since gone on to be a key figure for his club as well as with Ireland with whom he won a bronze medal at the 2015 European Championships in LondonHe says that getting that EHL experience was a big deal for him in his formative years as Bann played out a thriller with CA Montrouge – losing 4-3 – before pushing UHC Hamburg all the way in a 5-3 result.
“The last time we played in the EHL, I had just been brought into the squad towards the end of the season before so I was still new to the senior hockey setup.
“I just remember the pace of the game being unlike anything I had experienced before but we found our feet and showed we could test the best club teams. After that, we as a team always have wanted to get back to the competition to play at that level again!”
And so when the option to host was put out to tender in the summer, Bann jumped at the chance as they look to build on potential momentum gained by Ireland’s Olympic involvement.
They have had good support from Ulster hockey who closed the weekend for league matches while Hockey Ireland have made the weekend one free of men’s EYHL fixtures to allow as many people as possible to witness some of the best club hockey in the world
And Bell is hopeful that his club can make a big impact in front of home fans and reach the KO16 from a tough group that features a resurgent Saint Germain from France along with an impressive Royal Leopold. His father is on the organising committee for Round1 and the club is ingrained in his family.
“It’s massive for the club and community of Banbridge to have such a large sporting event coming in the town. I’ve seen first-hand the amount of work being put into it from the clubs perspective, so we as a team are very thankful to everyone who’s helping out.
“It’s also a big thing for Irish hockey to host this event for the first time. Hopefully, we can put on a good show and it won’t be too long before it’s held again in Ireland.”
As for the opposition, he says that the club has not looked too far ahead to the games at this stage. The Irish league began last weekend with Bann beating Three Rock Rovers 4-2 before drawing 2-2 with Glenanne, both former EHL clubs.
Looking at those games, he said: “I felt we started slowly in both games, we found ourselves under a lot of pressure and having to defend a lot within the first quarters. But we found our feet and grew into both games. Our penalty corner attack was sharp over the weekend, scoring three from five. hopefully we can carry that into the EHL weekend.
“We haven’t really focused on the EHL at this point in time, we’ve been more focused on the start of the Irish league. We haven’t looked at the other teams just yet, but in the week leading up to it we will be doing plenty of analysis work.
“Both teams have stand out players that we know will be able to influence the game, so we just need to minimise the chances that they have to impact it. We expect both games to be very tough but we know if we play as well as we can, we’ll be able to get the results needed to progress to the next round.”