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Fit-again Magee can inspire Bann to Euro joy

Eugene Magee

Banbridge are hoping the return of Ireland's most capped player, Eugene Magee, after a 15-week injury lay-off could be the catalyst that sees them emulate last season's remarkable progress to the EuroHockey League's knockout stages.

Magee has been an absentee since rolling his ankle while featuring for Ireland in their successful World Cup qualifier in Johannesburg back in early July, and his very presence is what coach Mark Tumilty feels can inspire his new-look side in two tough games in Barcelona this weekend.

First up is Poland's Grunwald Poznan on Saturday, followed 24 hours later by the showdown against the pool favourites, Belgium's Racing Club des Bruxelles.

Bann's attack has looked fragile in pre-season, with Magee's fellow striker Johnny McKee going through a cruel run of injuries which saw him damage his ankle on his return from breaking his collarbone while with Ireland in Johannesburg.

Bann's new recruits - Zach McClelland, Luke Witherow, Alex Tinney and James Hutchinson -are settling in following the departure of their much-vaunted central defensive partnership of Matthew Bell and Kyle Marshall, who are now with German club Crefelder and Nottingham club Beeston respectively.

And last Saturday's impressive opening 4-0 win at Railway Union was just the boost the Havelock Park lads needed ahead of the Euro programme - especially with two of the new faces Witherow and Tinney getting among the goals to give themselves a boost ahead of their European debuts.

Bann did exceptionally well this time last year when they topped their pool at a packed Havelock Park to make it to the EuroHockey League's knockout stages.

And so a win over the Polish giants is paramount to give them the launching pad to raise their game against Bruxelles the following day.

Meanwhile, the EY Irish Hockey League continues in their absence, with Cookstown off to Glenanne on Saturday hoping to get off the mark after last week's narrow defeat to Pembroke.

Annadale make the long journey to Cork C of I in one of three games on Sunday and Peter Caruth's lads will want a better outcome than last week's heavy defeat against Three Rock.

Lisnagarvey have no game - they were due to play Bann, who are in Barcelona.

Finally, the last of the Kirk Cup pool games are scheduled for Saturday, with Mossley and South Antrim hoping to claim the fourth and final semi-final slot.

Kilkeel, Instonians and Civil Service have already qualified for the last four, and a win for Mossley at home to Portadown will guarantee them going through too.

However, South Antrim are hoping for success at Newry Olympic to keep the pressure on in the hope Mossley slip up.

Belfast Telegraph