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Euro spot raises stakes for Banbridge and Lisnagarvey

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Eugene Magee, Banbridge with Daniel Buser and Jason Lynch, Lisnagarvey

Eugene Magee, Banbridge with Daniel Buser and Jason Lynch, Lisnagarvey

Eugene Magee, Banbridge with Daniel Buser and Jason Lynch, Lisnagarvey

There's more than just pride at stake when near neighbours and arch rivals Banbridge and Lisnagarvey square up in the Irish Hockey League semi-finals at Havelock Park on Saturday afternoon -- there's also a place in Sunday's decider and a probable place in Europe's top club competition next year.

Normally you have to win the IHL to book a place in Europe, but there's a reasonable chance that finishing runners-up would suffice -- providing Three Rock Rovers win the first semi-final against their Dublin rivals Monkstown.

Three Rock, of course, are already guaranteed European action following their Irish Senior Cup final success earlier in the season, and if they were to win the IHL too, then Sunday's beaten finalists would be handed the second Euro place.

So you can see why there is so much at stake when Bann and Garvey clash head-on in Saturday's 5pm slot, as they will already know whether Three Rock have done the business.

At the end of the day, Bann coach Mark Tumilty and Garvey coach Errol Lutton are concentrating on getting through to the final, and if they do, they want to go the extra mile and win the trophy outright to go into the senior European competition.

But respective captains Eugene Magee and Jonathan Bell accept that if Three Rock beat Monkstown and went on to complete the all-Ireland double, then at least there is a fallback to get the second coveted European place, albeit in the lower tier.

"You want to play the best teams, and they're all found in the EuroHockey League, so our aim has to be to win the tournament," insists Magee.

"Monkstown played well against us last week and I wouldn't mind meeting them again to get revenge, but first we have to beat Garvey in the semi-final."

And Garvey captain Bell was of the same opinion. "Yes, it's nice to know that if Three Rock got into the decider, there's a chance for Europe.

"However, ideally we would want to win the tournament and get into the top European tier. But first of all it's Bann and we'll have to be faster off the blocks than we were last week when Cookstown scored twice early on."

So is there any indicator from form between Bann and Garvey?

Well, they managed to avoid each other in the early season Kirk Cup and also the Irish Senior Cup, so have faced each other just twice, both in the league.

Bann won the first encounter 2-1 at Havelock Park but crashed 8-2 in the return game at Hillsborough and lost their Premier League title to Garvey on goal difference.

Yes, the weekend, sponsored by Irwin's Bakery, is certain to be a close affair. And with that European slot at stake as well as pride, it's sure to draw a sizeable crowd.

The venue will be transformed for the occasion with a 170-seater stand, a fenced marquee entrance, bouncy castles, premium spec cars on display, restaurant quality food from the Halfway House, DJ music, tuck shop, and a coffee dock all on offer.

Meanwhile, dates and venues for the senior and under-18 European Championships in 2015 have been rubber-stamped.

The Irish men go to London from August 22-30 to join Germany, Holland, England, Belgium, Spain, Russia and France and the u-18 boys go to Santander in Spain from July 5-11 to join Germany, Holland, England, Belgium, Spain, Russia and Scotland.

The Irish women go to Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic for the Championship II from July 18-27 to join Azerbaijan, Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, France, Ukraine and Wales, while the u-18 girls go to Mori in Italy for the Championship II to join Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Wales.