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Baptism of fire for Bann, Cookstown

Banbridge and Cookstown found out just how difficult life in the fast lane can be when they made their Eurohockey League debuts yesterday.

Bann, who qualified for the first time after winning the Irish Hockey League last season, lost 4-3 to French champions Montrouge despite a brave effort while Irish Senior Cup winners Coookstown crashed 5-0 to English representatives Reading.

It means neither are likely to qualify for the next round, as it would mean toppling even harder opposition in their second pool games later this weekend.

The Tyrone men will face Dutch giants Amsterdam, who have arguably the best penalty corner drag flicker in the world in their ranks - Taeke Taekema - this afternoon while Bann must square up to German giants Hamburg tomorrow morning.

It has been a big step-up in class for the Ulster sides - some would even say it's men against boys, and quite literally it is, as both Bann and Cookstown have a clutter of schoolboys in their ranks whereas many of their opponents are either part-time or professional players.

Bann found themselves a goal down against the French within four minutes when Tom Criolet scored.

But they hit back quickly and a trademark Ross McCandless penalty corner drag flick and a Scott Forbes goal after a through pass from McCandless turned things round.

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However, a mad period either side of the interval wrecked Bann's chances.

First Chrisophe Thiolin converted a penalty corner to level matters and then Matthieu Durchon and Joris Harous sent them into a commanding 4-2 lead.

Stephen Dowds pulled one back with a tremendous shot on the reverse but the French closed up in the later stages and Bann just couldn't find the breakthrough despite dominating the proceedings.

Cookstown found it difficult to get into their stride against Reading who boast a handful of Great Britain internationals in their ranks as well as Irish international Chris Cargo from Bangor.

Reading's experienced defender Richard Mantell struck twice in the first half with his lethal drag flick penalty corners which gave Cookstown goalkeeper Ian Hughes no chance.

And in the second half striker Andy Watts bagged himself a hat-trick, all from open play.

His first came after a flowing movement which he finished off in styel, the second he converted from close range and the third when he dived full length to deflect in a cross.

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