Armagh sign Czech Republic international star to inspire glory bid
Armagh have signed talented Czech Republic international Nikol Babika to strengthen their bid to recapture the glory days.
The 19-year-old has already made an impact, scoring twice in last Saturday's 5-1 Ulster Senior Cup win over CI at Belmont.
Babika played for the Czechs against Ireland in the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process at Banbridge in June when the deal was finalised.
Armagh, who play in Senior One, the third tier of Irish hockey, had already laid down a marker by signing Ireland player Gemma Frazer from top-flight Belfast Harlequins.
Ultimately, Armagh want to get back to the highest level but it's going to be a gradual process, with promotion to the top-tier in Ulster the first target in sight.
Club chairman Niall McCool revealed that the move, in principle, to sign the 31-times capped Czech was conceived two years ago in a hotel in the Netherlands.
He explained: "We were away with the club's juniors and we got to know a lot of foreign coaches once the day's work was done.
"I'd kept in touch with the Czechs ever since and we targeted Nikol after watching her on video and then first-hand during the tournament in Banbridge.
"She is just the sort of player we need to help us in our ambition to ultimately get back to the top table."
Nicol says she has fitted well into her new environment and routine which also involves coaching the club's youngsters.
She said: "I gave the move much consideration but felt it was a perfect challenge for me at this time and playing hockey in a different country can only be good for my development.
"Armagh have been brilliant to me and helped me feel very comfortable and I hope we can achieve our objective together."
While she is in Ireland, Nikol will be taking a break from representative hockey with her home country after a busy summer with the Czech Republic.
A dual indoor and outdoor international, she also featured at the European second-tier Championship in Glasgow after competing at the Under-21 Euros.
Interestingly, she is not the first Czech to play club hockey in Ulster.
Compatriots Klara Poluprutska and Pavla Nesporova lined out for Ballymoney in the Premier League in 1990, after playing for the national team at the European U21 Championship in Belfast.
Weekend fixtures: Friday (7pm): Ulster Premier: Mossley v Rainey. Senior Cup: North Down v Dromore. Saturday (2.30pm): Ulster Premier: Ballymoney v Ards; Dungannon v Lurgan; Lisnagarvey v Banbridge; Randalstown v Queen's. Senior Cup: Ballymena v Portadown; Priorians v CI; Club KV v Omagh (1pm).