Bann, Garvey bow out but two Euro slots still on offer
Banbridge and Lisnagarvey may have bowed out of the EuroHockey League over Easter weekend but the good news is that it's almost certain that their performances will guarantee two Irish teams in the competition again next season.
Ranking points decide on whether nations can get one, two or even three teams in the elite competition, or whether some drop to the second tier or worse still to the third tier.
But by both Ulster teams reaching the KO-16 stage, there should be sufficient ranking points earned to keep them above nearest rivals Russia and Scotland on the ladder, which means two representatives should get the nod again next term.
And that means Bann and Garvey now turn their attention to the end-of-season Irish play-offs - both have already qualified - with the target a top two finish to ensure an immediate return to the EuroHockey set-up.
No Irish club has ever reached the last eight in Europe and once again they fell short, although Bann's performance against Racing Club de France warranted a win, but instead they bowed out after a disappointing shoot-out following a 1-1 draw.
Garvey went in as underdogs against Spanish champions Atletic Terrassa on Saturday and the absence of international duo Timmy Cockram (unavailable) and midfielder Michael Robson (cup-tied) and then an injury to their international colleague Jonathan Bell didn't help their cause.
But it was their inability to defend Roc Oliva's penalty corners and the amount of turnovers they conceded that really cost them dearly.
All four Terrassa goals came from set-pieces, with Oliva converting three and Marc Bolta getting the other from a rebound, whereas Garvey were unable to get anything from their three awards.
It took Oliva only five minutes to break the deadlock although Sean Murray soon levelled affairs when he scored a delightful goal with a cheeky lob into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Oliva restored the Terrassa lead before the end of the first quarter and then Garvey had a goal ruled out after the umpire referral showed that the ball had been deflected on to Matthew Nelson's knee by the goalkeeper seconds before Paul Gleghorne put it into the net.
With Garvey forced into defensive changes, Terrassa wrapped things up with the penalty corner rebound from Marc Bolta and Oliva completing his hat-trick of set-piece goals.
Bann, though, can count themselves unlucky not to have progressed at the expense of Racing Club, after their exit on the shoot-out following a 1-1 draw.
They did enough in normal time to warrant a win, although it took them until 11 minutes from the end before the got the equaliser, with Matthew Allister sweeping home after fine work in the circle by Johnny McKee.
Teenage goalkeeper Luke Roleston deputised admirably in the absence of regular Gareth Lennox but when it came to the shoot-out he had no answer to the Frenchmen who put away their first three whereas the Bann takers failed to score.
There remains some Ulster interest in the competition though - Cookstown's Ian Sloan helped Wimbledon to a 3-1 win over UHC Hamburg on Saturday and they now meet another German club in Mannheimer today (12.15pm) for a place in the semi-finals.