Banbridge get their competitive season underway with the Anderson Cup at Havelock this weekend in Ulster Hockey’s first Festival of Hockey.
Mark Tumilty’s team lost both their friendly fixtures last weekend but, bolstered by the return of Ireland international Peter Brown, they’re keen to hit the ground running in this weekend’s nine-a-side tournament.
“The good thing about it is that it’s physical so the boys all get a decent work-out,” said Tumilty. “I’d like to think we’ll get out of our group with Newry, Kilkeel and Queens.
“That would move us into the finals on Sunday but it’s mainly about getting players pitch-time and we need to get out with any injuries.”
This weekend’s tournament is arguably even more important for Tumilty’s men given that their Ulster Premier League opener on 13 September is against old rivals Lisnagarvey.
Whoever comes out on top of the meetings between the clubs is all but nailed on to win the league. With two IHL and two Irish Senior Cup games in October, Tumilty knows his side have to find their feet immediately this season.
The next six or eight weeks are very important in shaping our season but the group’s in good shape,” he said.
“We need to tidy up the hockey but we’ll get that sorted out.
“I’m surprised with how much the group has matured over the summer. I’m surprised how physically fit and in good shape they were coming back after the break. A lot of them were involved in Irish and Irish U21 hockey but they’ve all trained very hard and looked after themselves.
“The group is in better physical shape than ever so that’s very pleasing.
“If somebody had told me at the start of the summer that we would have the squas we have now, I’d have been delighted. It’s another year and another challenge so I’m looking forward to it.”
Tumilty has added Peter Brown to his squad after the former Bann man returned to the club following a spell at UCD last season. However, they will be without star man Eugene Magee, whose recurring knee problem is likely to keep him out for three months. This weekend, Philip Brown, Bruce McCandless, Owen Magee and Matthew Bell will return for Bann after guesting in an expenses-paid trip to Canada last week.