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Brown gives Bann a boost in their bid to reach Europe

By Graham Hamilton

Banbridge are hoping that home advantage and the support of a large crowd will inspire them to an EY Irish Champions Trophy success this weekend -so they can take their place among Europe's elite next season.

The top four teams from the Irish Hockey League are taking part in these end-of-season play-offs, with Bann facing Monkstown (5pm) and Lisnagarvey meeting Pembroke (3pm) in Saturday's semi-finals with the winners clashing in Sunday's decider.

Bann captain Eugene Magee admits his team are not going into the tournament as favourites as they finished third in the IHL behind a rampant Garvey and a Monkstown team who also won the Irish Senior Cup.

But the return of goalkeeper Gareth Lennox from a shoulder operation and also teak-tough defender Phillip Brown after almost a year out with a knee injury has given his squad a more balanced look over the last few weeks.

Bann and Monkstown have already met twice in the IHL this season, and the 1-1 draws in December and February will give the Havelock Park side the confidence that they can finally pull off a win against the Dubliners, who have Ulsterman Peter Caruth in their squad.

"We haven't managed to beat Monkstown in recent years, they have become our bogey team," said Magee.

"But the two draws this season has given us a lift, as has the return of Gareth and Phillip from lengthy lay-offs."

The Garvey/Pembroke clash should also be close - the Blues beat Pembroke twice in the IHL, but the fact that they were narrow 3-2 defeats shows that Errol Lutton's lads won't get it easy.

Garvey only suffered one defeat in their 18-match IHL programme and also reached the Irish Senior Cup final, so go in as favourites.

The addition of three internationals - Paul Gleghorne, Neal Glassey and Mickey Watt - this season and the emergence of a handful of talented teenagers means they have their strongest squad in years.

But they have to be wary of a Pembroke side who have grown in stature as the IHL progressed, with current internationals like Alan Sothern and Kirk Shimmins in their ranks as well as a handful of former internationals.

Another crucial game scheduled for the weekend is the IHL promotion/relegation battle between Cookstown and UCD, also earmarked for Havelock Park on Sunday (12.30pm).

And the Anderson Cup quarter-finals continue, with Instonians off to North Down tonight just a few days after booking their place in the Irish Hockey League by beating UCD 3-1 in the Provincial Play-off final.

Inst coach Steven Redpath admitted: "It was a great relief for us to reach the IHL. We did everything but score in the first-half but the boys came through in style in the second period."

Other Anderson Cup quarter-finals to be sorted out are Civil Service and Kilkeel tomorrow evening and Queen's against the winners of Portadown and Raphoe on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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