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Ulster's Matthew Bell sounds out inter-provincial title aim

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Matthew Bell is enjoying a memorable season after making his Ireland debut against Germany

Matthew Bell is enjoying a memorable season after making his Ireland debut against Germany

Matthew Bell is enjoying a memorable season after making his Ireland debut against Germany

What a season it has been for teenager Matthew Bell... and there's every chance that things will get even better.

The Banbridge defender has not only established himself in the Havelock Park club's successful first team but he has made his senior international debut against none less than Olympic gold medallists Germany.

Now he is about to pull on the captain's armband when Ulster line out in the Under-21 inter-provincials in Dublin this weekend.

If that's not enough, there is every likelihood that he will make the Irish Under-21 squad for the following week's Four Nations tournament at Mossley to rub shoulders with the cream of young talent from Germany, England and Scotland.

And before the season ends there could be club success on the horizon, with Banbridge hopeful they can make an impact in the all-Ireland Irish Hockey League.

"Yes, it's been a busy year, and now there is so much hockey being squeezed into a short space of time," admits Matthew.

"It's expected the league programme will be completed by the end of this month, with these Under-21 inter-provincials and the Under-21 internationals in between, and then there's the Irish Hockey League throughout March and into April as well."

Matthew has just recovered from injury which curtailed training at club and Under-21 squad level. But he's fully fit again and ready for the busy schedule, starting with the inter-provincials at Three Rock's Grange Road.

"We have a very good squad, with lots of experience," he says. "In fact the bulk of the players are all featuring at Ulster Premier League level."

The programme sees Ulster take on Munster in their opening game on Friday followed by hosts Leinster the day after, with Sunday's match against the Irish Under-18s completing the schedule.

With the Under-18s games against the three provinces not counting in the outcome of the inter-provincial title, it means that Ulster could effectively have things wrapped up before the final day.

"If we beat Munster and Leinster in those first two games, then the decider final day would become academic," says Matthew.

"But it won't be easy. Leinster are always hard to beat and Munster will have been boosted by Nick Burns winning his first senior international cap last month."

Matthew will be joined in coach Steven Cuddy's UIster squad by Bann team-mates Josh Moffett, Owen Magee and Johnny McKee, as well as Ben Cosgrove who plays with Scottish side Grove Menzieshill. Lisnagarvey's James Lorimer is another key player.

And Michael Robson, James Cox, Matthew Allister and Connor Roberts also know all about the big occasion, having won the Kirk Cup with Annadale.

The Irish Under-18s, coached by Annadale's Andrew Smyth, have nine Ulster boys included – Wallace High trio Sean Murray, Daniel Nelson and Mark McNellis, Banbridge Academy's Timothy Watt and Aaron Reid, Regent House's Peter McKibben, Campbell College's Chris Heath, Drumreagh College's Andrew Smyth, and Friends School's James Milliken.

ULSTER U-21s: Ben McMillan (Mossley); Michael Anderson (Queen's); Matthew Rollins (Cookstown), Ryan Millar (Cookstown ); Matthew Bell (Banbridge); Neal Glassey (Mossley); James Lorimer (Lisnagarvey); James Cox (Annadale); Connor Roberts (Annadale); Josh Moffett (Banbridge); Jamie Wright (Portadown): Matthew Allister (Annadale); Ben Cosgrove (Grove Menzieshill); Andrew McWhirter (Cookstown); Michael Robson (Annadale); Johnny McKee (Banbridge); Neil Gilmore (Portadown); Owen Magee (Banbridge).

Belfast Telegraph