THIS could well be one of the toughest seasons of Mark Tumilty’s coaching career.
With Bann reaching the heights of the European Hockey League this season, the Champions League of the sport, Bann will have to play at least two more games than they had to last year - and maybe more if the club’s Head Coach has his way.
That won’t be easy,, but while the European games will be the obvious attraction this year Tumilty would be more than content with domestic success.
“I think that playing in Europe is a great reward for winning the IHL and we would like to do that again,” the former Lisnagarvey man said.
“I think we’re in a position to do that, we’re certainly strong enough despite losing a couple of players.
“To be honest we’re not going to win the EHL but one of the benefits of being involved is that we get to play against the Germans, Hamburg, who have won the competition twice in the four years it has been running.
“For that to happen we will have to perform against both the Germans and the French side we have in our group. It would be huge for the club if we could make the last 16.”
The EHL games come at a busy time in the sport in October.
During that period they have a couple of IHL games and a couple of Ulster League games against North Down and Harlequins, although they have been given a bye in the Irish Cup first round.
“That period in October and even into early November could well shape our season,” added Tumilty.
“We could either be involved in a lot of competitions or else our season could be over.
“But we have been training well over the last few weeks. To be fair we were poor against the NI Schoolboys the other week and we have lost a few of our own schoolboys to the UK School Games team but we will cope for now without them.
“We are coming along well. Everyone’s got a year’s extra experience under their belt and that will help us through this season.”
Tumilty has also been hit by the loss of Colin Dowds and Simon Magowan. Dowds is off travelling, although he will remain registered as a Bann player as he is due to return in February. How much he will play after that, however, is down to how fit he is following his trip.
Meanwhile Magowan is out for the season due to a knee ligament injury.
For the departures there have been arrivals too at the club.
“We’ve brought in Ross Beattie from Mossley. I’ve been impressed with him so far and I can see him playing a key role for us from midfield this year,” the Bann coach said.
“Scott Caruth has joined us as well from North Down. He has scored a few corners against us in the past and while he’s still a bit raw he’s only 23 and he is willing to work so I think we’ll be seeing quite a bit of him in the future.
“As well as that we’ve got Drew Carlisle back in the squad. He had been in South Africa, playing out there while undertaking his medical studies.”
Out of all the competitions Banbridge are in there is one that Tumilty would love to get his hands on.
“I really want to win the Ulster League this year,” he admitted.
“We have come so close now for the last two years and it’s the one that has eluded us for so long.”
Banbridge haven’t won the Ulster League since the 1988-89 season. Back then the club was still playing on the Castlewellan Road.
Now, 12 years on since they moved to Havelock Park, there is a real sense of optimism that they can get their hands on a trophy that has eluded them for over 20 years.
First, though, Bann have to start off their season in the Kirk Cup.
The holders go on the road to play Kilkeel, traditionally something of a bogey team for the locals but Tumilty is certain that a winning start to their massive season can be achieved.
Some would say the Kirk Cup takes a back seat when it comes to the order of preference for coaches, but not the Banbridge man.
“I wouldn’t say it’s not a priority - I like to winning though and it’s good to have a competition like the Kirk Cup in the trophy cabinet,” he said.
“I would like for us to get to at least the semi-finals because that game would come on the Sunday after we play Annadale.
“That would be two big games played in the one weekend.at the end of September. Those games could be crucial to us ahead of the European weekend in Belgium.
“I would like for us to hold onto it; I would still be keen on that.”
Saturday’s game at Knockchree Avenue gets underway at 2.30pm