Banbridge teenager Matthew Bell is all set to make his Irish senior international debut tomorrow – and it couldn't come any harder than against world champions Germany in their own backyard.
Bell is the only new cap included in coach Andrew Meredith's 18-strong squad for the Hamburg Masters series which is being used as the key build-up for next month's EuroHockey Nations Cup campaign in Belgium.
Meredith has, however, made a handful of changes from the panel that competed in the recent World League semi-final in Rotterdam and has included two other teenagers in Bell's Bann team- mate Peter Brown and Lisnagarvey's central defender James Lorimer. Brown has been part of the squad in the past but missed out on that Rotterdam series after a bout of mumps laid him low, while Lorimer was part of the Irish Under 18 squad which won European gold in Poland earlier this month.
The coach has rested some of his more experienced players, including captain Ronan Gormley and Ulstermen Timmy Cockram, Peter Caruth and Paul Gleghorne, while others including Eugene Magee are unavailable or injured.
Returning to the squad are Banbridge's Bruce McCandless following injury, keeping the Ulster representation up to eight, and Leinster trio Mitch Darling, Stephen Cole and David Carson.
"The world champions in my first game – talk about being thrown in at the deep end," said Bell before flying out. "But I'm relishing the challenge; in fact I can't wait.
"The good thing is that I won't be among strangers in the squad – my Bann team-mates Bruce and Peter are with us, and I also know some of the other players through underage teams or club hockey."
Germany's captain Max Müller, who was the backbone of the team as they won gold medals at the Beijing (2008) and London Olympics (2012), the Europeans in Monchengladbach (2011) and the World League semi-finals in Malaysia (2013), will be an absentee in Hamburg and indeed also the Europeans as he is undergoing an achilles tendon operation which will rule him out for six months.
But even without the iconic defender, the world champions will be hard to beat tomorrow (2.30pm), as will the other two nations Ireland take on, World No.3 Netherlands on Saturday (3.30pm) and World No.4 England on Sunday (1.30pm).
IRELAND: J Jackson, J Bell, J Lorimer, M Bell, P Brown, M Watt, C Cargo, B McCandless (all Ulster), D Fitzgerald, S Cole, S O'Donoghue, M Darling, K Good, A Sothern, D Carson, P Maguire (all Leinster), D Harte, C Harte (both Munster).