Banbridge is the venue for the men’s EuroHockey Trophy II, the final competition with points allocated toward next season’s Euro Hockey League while the top two will also be in line to earn their country promotion to the Trophy I for 2024.
As such, there is lots on the line in this seven team competition. Pool A features three teams following the withdrawal of the Polish representatives WKS Grunwald Poznan, leaving 2022 winners TJ Plzen-Litice in contention against Gaziantep Polisgücü SK and Copenhagen.
The latter two clubs have made rapid strides up from Challenge III level where both competed in 2019.
The Irish hosts are in Pool B which has four teams; Bann welcomed Italian side SG Amsicora both in 1985 and 2016. For Welsh side Swansea, it is a first European campaign since 1997 while Croatia’s HAHK Mladost contest a Trophy-level event for the first time since 2009.
The tournament starts on Friday with the group winners going through to a final on Monday; second in each group will play for bronze while third in each pool battle for the fifth place playoff.
Read more about each team here:
Banbridge (Men) – EuroHockey Trophy II
TJ Plzen Litice (CZE)
TJ Plzen Litice are aiming to win this Trophy II title for the second time in three seasons having taken the 2021 title on home turf. That turf has been an integral part of the story for the club who were formed in 1971 but only got their own astro in 2005 since when they have qualified for Europe seven times with the 2021 success their best performance yet.
Captain Adam Uhlíř is a central figure and was named the best player of the Czech Republic in both 2019 and 2022 as well as best player of Trophy II in 2021. Jakub Koryťák is a longtime member of the national team following spells in England and Italy while Reinhard Nicklas is another well-travelled player with an eye for goal, top-scoring in Plzen two years ago.
Eduard Gerlický, Lukáš Benda and goalkeeper Tomáš Nečas also have important roles to play.
After the autumn schedule, they were first in the table and then won the indoor title for the very first time but it was harder in the second half of the outdoor season, dropping back to third place. Nonetheless, they reached the championship final with a 9-5 semi-final win over two legs against Bohemians (6-2 and 3-3).
Coach Tomáš Levy says of their preparations: “We try to play open, combination hockey. Sport must be fun for the players, bring emotions, it must hurt also. Only hard trainings brings results and satisfaction from the game.”
HC Copenhagen (DEN)
Danish runners-up last season, HC Copenhagen are looking to continue their good run of results in Europe in recent years. It has seen them win gold in Challenge III in 2019, bronze in Challenge II in 2021 and then bronze again in Challenge I last year on home turf.
This will be their first time competing in a Trophy level event and they arrive in Banbridge with a quite a cosmopolitan initial entry list of players with some hailing from England, Germany, the Netherlands, Chile and Ireland – former Banbridge player Ian Livingstone.
It is an experienced line-up with captain Rasmus Mundeling and Tobias Grand both playing full roles in their rise from Challenge III level. They qualified for Denmark as league runners-up and national cup winners.
Gaziantep Polisgücü (TUR)
The Turkish champions are looking forward to their 10th European competition since making their debut in the Challenge IV in 2008. Of late, they have been rising through the divisions with gold in both 2018 and 2019 in Challenge III and then at Challenge II level in 2021.
Last year in Copenhagen, they took bronze in Challenge I and now they will have their first ever campaign in a Trophy event. Captain Yusuf Yasar, Mehmet Akif Cetiner and Celal Aydin have been ever-present on that journey while they have the brilliant Iranian indoor player Reza Norouzzadeh along with three fellow country-men, Yaghoub Bahrami, Mohammad Asnaashari and Behdad Beiranvand.
They built up for the competition with a hectic Super League schedule, winning four of their last five fixtures in the past two weeks but they did fall to title rivals Nizip Zeugma SK last Friday, 3-1.
Banbridge (IRL) – pictured above
Banbridge have a wealth of international experience within the squad as well as a great mix of experience and youth, hopeful of winning a sixth trophy this season.
For club legend Eugene Magee, Ireland’s most capped player, this will be a special event as he will retire at the end of the tournament. Other current internationals are Johnny McKee, Charlie and Louis Rowe.
Most of the squad have been graduates of Banbridge Academy, the school a couple of hundred metres away from their Havelock Park home. Matthew McKee may have the unique honour of being the first to win All Ireland Schools, EY League, EY Champions Trophy and Irish Senior Cup in one season.
Bann have already completed the “treble” of EY League, Champions Trophy and Senior Cup for the first time in their history this season as well as the Kirk Cup and Anderson Cups.
Head Coach Scott McCandless is looking forward to the tournament: “It is always a challenge to play against teams and styles of play that we would not normally encounter. We will be giving the tournament our full attention to finish the season with another trophy”
Banbridge first hosted a European tournament in 1985 when Amsicora also played and they returned to Bann when the local club hosted Round 1 of the EHL in 2016. Banbridge also have an interest in the Copenhagen team in former player Ian Livingstone, who now lives and works in the Danish capital.
SG Amsicora (ITA)
Amsicora have a long history in European competition with 20 appearances across indoor and outdoor competitions since 1982 and they have the most Italian championships in total (23).
They finished in third place last season but were able to take up their spot in the competition when the two other sides opted not to travel, opening up the position for them.
It is their third time travelling to Banbridge, playing there in 1985 when they reached the final and then again for the EHL ROUND1 in 2016.
Their key player is Mariano Tisera (from Argentina) with the 38-year-old and captain Giaime Carta bringing experience to a young team with the club doing a lot of investment in their young players.
In the Italian league, they lie in sixth place but are unbeaten in their last four outings; draws have been their undoing as they have been level in four of their last six outings.
This will be Swansea’s men’s first European competition in over 20 years and their first since the merger with Swansea University five years ago. Before that, Swansea played in six European competitions between 1978 and 1997 while the university side played in 2000 in Vienna in the Cup Winners Challenge.
Swansea competed in England’s West Premier division and finished in seventh place overall with nine wins from 22 games this season and they qualified for European competition last season as runners-up to Cardiff & Met in the Welsh Cup.
Two players from the panel have prior European experience – Ben Croxall with Penarth and captain Jake Joyce with Whitchurch. The latter contested the Euro Trophy in Ireland in 2015.
HAHK Mladost (CRO)
One of the most regular features on the European circuit, this will be just HAHK Mladost’s second appearance in a Trophy event despite 23 appearances since 1993.
That other one was also in Ireland when they finished seventh in Dublin 2009; it came amid a run of seven bronze medal runs in Challenge I between 2004 and 2014.
They come into the competition having dropped just two points in the season to date in the Croatian championship, picking up a 6-0 win over HK Unity last weekend. Chief among their threats will be Ukraine international Vitalii Kalinchuk who has scored 16 times while Anže Fujs is another sharp-shooter.
International Under-21 indoor captain Fran Zlatar and Fran Gjurinski are among their stars on the rise.