BANBRIDGE are returning to European action despite missing out on lifting the Irish Hockey League title.
The locals lost out on securing a double against a strong Monkstown side, who were well worth their win according to Banbridge coach Mark Tumilty, on Sunday.
As a consolation, however, their IHL runners-up spot was good enough to secure them at least a spot in the European Club Challenge Trophy - although should Cork Harlequins win this year’s competition, which is being held in Vienna next weekend, then Bann could find themselves promoted to the European Hockey League.
That’s because Ireland lost their second automatic EHL qualifying place when Ireland slipped down the rankings to ninth place and it means that, barring a minor miracle, Bann will be taking on teams from Austria, Russia and Poland, rather than the elite from Holland, Germany and Belgium.
“I’m pretty pleased with how we did this weekend although obviously I’m disappointed to have missed out on the title,” said Tumilty.
“To be honest the better team won. Monkstown are a team who we will be doing battle with over the next few seasons and as our team gets older and gains experience I’m sure we will be able to give them a good challenge.”
The Bann coach believes that the Havelock Park men have plenty of reasons to be optimistic as they look forward to the new season.
“We’re a young side and to win the Ulster League with a side containing nine or 10 under-21s is no mean feat.
“I was pleased over the weekend with how some of the young guys played - there were certainly plenty of positives to take. Bruce McCandless and Philip Brown were outstanding and Philip’s brother Peter also put in a good shift. Stephen Forbes too reacted well to his error in the final.
“I was also pleased with the manner of our win against Cookstown - it’s always good to get a win over your rivals.”
The defeat was also the first time Bann had lost in normal time since last September.
Tumilty added, “Monkstown are bigger than us and went out to win, whereas we went out to play our own style of hockey. Ultimately they were successful in what they set out to do, but I am a firm believer that hockey should be played the right way and I’ll be sticking to that.
“It’s not been a bad season at all but we will be looking to build on what we have achieved, including bringing in some fresh faces over the summer, but for now we’ll just be enjoying our well-earned break.”