Brilliant Bann play way into the Havelock hall of fame

On the walls of the Havelock Park clubhouse, the Banbridge Chronicle hails “Bann’s Hockey Heroes”, a pictorial tribute to the club’s glorious 1985 EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy success.

You get the feeling a glut of fresh press cuttings will adorn those walls in the coming weeks with 2016’s EHL ROUND1 already assured a central place in the clubs’ folklore.

As a grand finale, Banbridge got the moment they deserved to cap an incredible weekend. The biggest crowd seen at the club since the move from the Castlewellan Road witnessed the first Irish club ever to top the group stages.

It was done at the expense of a star-studded Royal Leopold outfit captained by Olympic silver medalist Elliot van Strydonck and bolstered by Australian star Glenn Turner. A 3-3 draw – in addition to Saturday’s 2-0 win over Saint Germain – saw them through on goal difference.

For coach Mark Tumilty he was initially speechless before composing himself: “There’s a bit of shock in there! We were always going to have to ride our luck at this level.

“We took our chances but we did give them things and Turner was excellent up front. But we did manage the game well and the right times. Eugene Magee was unbelievable as was Matthew Bell once again – he has been world class.”

Magee put them ahead in glorious fashion, his upright backhand shot as sweet a connection as you will see, profiting after Jonny McKee picked him out all alone in the centre of the circle.

Leo responded with a concerted charge to show this was never going to be a pushover. Max Plennevaux shot low to the right post with a deflection guiding the ball away from Gareth Lennox for 1-1.

Moments later, Julien Plennevaux hit the post with a diving effort before Alexis Lemaire dragged in the second goal from a set piece. Bann were rocking and could have been in further danger but for Lennox’s brilliance to deny Arthur Verdussen and Turner.

Bruce McCandless hit the outside of the post to show the Havelock hosts still have teeth to their attack and they were well in the tie at half-time, 2-1 down.

To limit the damages at that stage meant there was always a chance. And Kyle Marshall had them back on terms two minutes into the second half, sliding on to a Matthew Bell push from a corner to set the cat back among the pigeons.

There was something fitting in Marshall – a rare scorer for the first team – getting on the mark. Fourteen of the Bann panel hail from the nearby Academy with Marshall a current student who led the side to the All-Ireland Schoolboys title last term.

There were more rocky moments, however, as a sloppy ball out of defence went straight to Dorian Thiery – the key man in Leo’s press – to easily steal possession. He was through on Gareth Lennox one-on-one and spotted enough space to attempt a lob.

The goalkeeper sensed as much but was left flapping as Thiery miscued his scoop, leaving him grasping as thin air with the ball apologetically crossing the goal line.

Once again, Bann bounced back and won another corner. This time, the trap did not work out but McKee regathered the ball and arrowed from right to left with Marshall in the middle to get a light touch in for 3-3.

The last 20 minutes were agonising, Leo pushing forward and pinning Bann in their 23 metre zone. Bell was immense, his tackles and interceptions like a magnet to the ball, with his two performances supposedly drawing glowing compliments from a couple of quarters from the Dutch club scene.

The roars that greeted Lennox’s assertive saves erupted like the post-game fireworks. Nicolas Poncelet’s tame yellow card helped matters while there were a couple of glimpses of a potential fourth goal. It was not required in the end as Havelock exploded one the final hooter.

It was no less than the club deserved. Commentator Nick Irvine – known as the “voice of the EHL” – would later describe the competition as the best ROUND1 event held in the EHL’s 10-year history.

For context, with roughly 2,000 fans on both Saturday and Sunday, the volume of support was in the ballpark of the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in Dublin. That it was done on a voluntary basis, co-ordinated by the likes of John Bell, Roger Martin and Jonto Walker to name a few, was an exemplar of what can be done.

Eugene Magee said his side owed it to put their best forward to match the efforts of those who played a part in providing them with this unique platform.

“It was just a deserving performance for all the support and the work that has gone in from the volunteers to set up this amazing venue. The lads understood what it meant to everyone around the club and around the town.

“Our defence was superb, Matthew Bell in particular. The midfield, the forward line – you can’t fault any of them. Everyone gave it their all.”

Tumilty summed up his emotions as Bann join Lisnagarvey in next April’s KO16: “This is a great day for Irish hockey, to have two teams in the KO16 who thoroughly deserve to be there.

“This is the highlight of my coaching career, probably my whole hockey career. For all the guys, to come back to your home club, there is a special feeling. To produce on our home ground, we have to enjoy it. Life is too short not to!”

Earlier in the day, Atletic Terrassa edged out Bromac Kelburne 3-2 to win through to the KO16, narrowly avoiding a sharp exit at the hands of the Scots.

UHC Hamburg saw off a lively Cardiff & Met 3-1 while SV Kampong were too strong for KS AZS AWF Poznan, David Harte having little to do in an 7-1 win.

Pool C standings: 1. Banbridge 7pts (+2) 2. Royal Leopold 7pts (+1) 3. Saint Germain 2pts (-3)

Banbridge celebrate post-match. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Banbridge celebrate post-match. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

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