Three Rock Rovers will carry the Irish flag in European club action when they take on the men’s EHL Ranking Cup competition at the Dragons’ den in Brasschaat, just north of Antwerp.
The competition is part of the finalisation of the 2020/21 European season which was put on hold in the spring due to the Covid-19 spread across the continent.
Three Rock will take on Belarus’s HC Minsk on Saturday morning and then, depending how they do, face the winner England’s Hampstead & Westminster or Germany’s Mannheimer HC on Sunday morning.
For Rovers, it will be their fifth season in the EHL, the elite level club tournament in which they have reached the KO16 each time they have competed.
Most recently in 2019, they became the first Irish side to win a knock-out fixture before putting it up to German champions Rot-Weiss Köln in a 4-2 battle in Barcelona.
They have their place in the EHL by virtue of being the last side to win the EY Champions Trophy back in 2019 following the abandoned 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.
As such, only seven of that vintage are likely to be in a position to reprise that relative EHL success after seven players emigrated in the summer while Mitch Darling retired.
A late summer influx of players, though, from UCD has seen them bolstered and the bedding in process has seen them accrue seven points out of nine in the EY Hockey League to date.
And coach Elun Hack says this tournament will help hasten their ability to gel together.
“Naturally, I think we were all delighted to welcome our TRR boys back to the club from UCD, and a couple other really nice additions in Matteo Romoli and Ryan Spencer,” he said.
“We have not had as much time together as we would have liked but There is huge amounts of talent in this group, and I think their natural ability will make ‘gelling’ somewhat easier, but there is a lot of work to do.
“This is evidenced by our inconsistent performances in the league thus far. EHL is always a great test of the group, and this time round, it will certainly play a major role in team building and helping the squad come together.”
It will be a first Ireland-Belarus meeting in the EHL with Minsk winning their national title during the summer. Video of them in action at club level is sparse but, with eight full internationals who won the European C division in the summer, they have plenty of hockey under their belt.
“They will have a strong indoor influence, so we are expecting a tough 1 v 1 battle, good solid defensive abilities, and high quality basics from them.
“EHL is unique in that it brings together teams that would otherwise never play against each other, and therefore provides the opportunity to test your skills and abilities against different demands.
“However they line up, it will be a great test for us, and one we are really excited about. In 2019, we had a fantastic match against Grange, and then Rot Weiss, we will be hoping for more of the same this time around and prove that Irish teams are well capable of competing against the big teams across Europe.”
Rovers will be the only Irish team in action this weekend. Lisnagarvey were pencilled in to play in the men’s EuroHockey Trophy I in the Czech Republic but withdrew due to Covid-19-related issues.
Similarly, Pegasus were due to play in the women’s EHL Ranking Cup in Hamburg and Loreto scheduled to contest the EuroHockey Club Trophy in Lille.
Exactly how this will impact the allocation of European places for 2022 will be determined in October following the allocation of points gained from Three Rock’s performances and the decision of the European Hockey Federation.
Men’s EHL Ranking Cup (Brasschaat, Belgium – October 2-3 2021)
Saturday: Three Rock Rovers v HC Minsk, 8.30am (Irish time)
Sunday: Classification matches
** All matches from the EHL Ranking Cup will be live streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org
** Fixtures correct at time of posting but subject to change