Bann's flair helps defeat odds to join Europe’s elite
The hooter went to signal the end of the game and immediately the flares went off in the grandstand as the large four-figure crowd celebrated.
It’s something you don’t often see at a hockey match in Ulster ... but then Banbridge’s achievement in winning their pool in the EuroHockey League - the sport’s equivalent to football’s Champions League - was something that had never been done here before.
Mark Tumilty’s lads knew they had punched above their weight to earn a 2-0 win in Saturday’s opening pool game against French giants St. Germain, but few expected them to raise their game again and earn the 3-3 draw against Belgian giants Royal Leopold yesterday to top the pool against all the odds.
Leopold boasted Olympic silver medallist Elliot van Strydonck, who dictated the pace and pattern of the game, and Australian superstar Glenn Turner who worked the Bann defence throughout.
But in the end Turner failed to get his name on the scoresheet thanks to heroics from goalkeeper Gareth Lennox and the four-man defence of Matthew Bell, Drew Carlisle, Kyle Marshall and Philip Brown in front of him.
The stark reality is that the amateurs from Banbridge have made it to the EHL’s knock-out stages for the first time, and now they join Lisnagarvey, who had already qualified as Irish champions, to await the KO-16 draw.
Never before has Irish hockey had two representatives at this stage, let alone both coming from Ulster, and it further improves the feel-good factor following the Irish team reaching Rio and moving into the world’s top 10 on the ranking ladder.
“This is the highlight of my coaching career,” admitted Tumilty. “We’re going to enjoy our achievement over the next few days, but then it’s back to training because we face Dublin giants Monkstown in the Irish Hockey League on Sunday.
“We’re enjoying this European journey, but we must make sure we qualify for it again next year.”
It was Bann’s Olympian Eugene Magee who had the Havelock Park crowd buzzing after two minutes when he converted Jamie Wright’s cross, but Leopold scored twice from penalty corners inside a 90-second period to lead 2-1 at the interval.
But then schoolboy Kyle Marshall took a break from his defensive duties to pop up in the circle to deflect home Matthew Bell’s penalty corner to level matters, although it was a lead they held for just a minute as Thierry Dorian lobbed in Leopold’s third.
But Marshall repeated his earlier goal following another Bell corner to make it 3-3 and it was backs-to-the-wall stuff for the last 20 minutes as Lennox pulled off saves and the outstanding Bell marshalled the defence.
“It was a great display from the players, from keeper right through to the attack,” said Bann skipper Magee. “In fact the weekend has been a remarkable success for the club, for the hosting of the event has been wonderful.”
Goalkeeper Lennox played down his role which many felt was the game of his career.
“Sure, that’s what I’m here to do,” he laughed as young fans swarmed round him for autographs.
The other teams to qualify as pool winners were Spanish side Atletic Terrassa, Hamburg and current champions Kampong who eliminated English side Holcombe, who had Ulsterman Iain Lewers in their ranks.
EuroHockey League (Havelock Park, Banbridge):
Saturday: Atletic Terrassa 4 Dinamo Kazan 4; Hamburg 12 Amsicora 1; St Germain 0 Banbridge 2 (J McKee, F Mills); Kampong 2 Holcombe 1
Yesterday: Atletic Terrassa 3 Bromac Kelburne 2; Hamburg 3 Cardiff & Met. 1; Kampong 7 Poznan 1; Banbridge 3 (K Marshall 2, E Magee) Royal Leopold 3