Harlequins dig deep as European odyssey begins in Vienna

Cork Harlequins will delve into the depths of their reserves as they bid to overcome the odds at this weekend’s EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy in Vienna.

The back story has been a bizarre one for the Farmers Cross men. Having stunned Irish hockey with an unexpected Irish Senior Cup triumph last year, their hopes of a EuroHockey League berth were dashed as Scotland edged past Ireland in the rankings, instead sending them to this weekend’s second-tier competition in Austria.

Furthermore, Quins have endured a rotten season domestically, relinquishing their Munster league and cup crowns to Cork C of I — the nadir coming when they were thumped 6-0 by their great rivals in the Munster Senior Cup final — before finishing bottom of their Irish Hockey League pool, albeit with some improving performances.

At one stage, they almost had more players on the treatment table than were available for first-team duty, meaning they played one half of an IHL game against Monkstown without substitutes.

Other Irish clubs — not least Banbridge, who are Ireland’s second European representatives next year — will be hoping Quins can bounce back to earn enough ranking points in Vienna to reclaim the country’s second EHL berth. But coach Phil Oakley says they’ll be performing for themselves, first and foremost.

“I think we mainly want to do this for ourselves as we feel our season, which started so brightly with a good win over Cookstown in the Irish Senior Cup, fell away with a lot of poor performances in the league,” said Oakley.

“We have seen some improvements during the IHL, despite the results, and hopefully we can continue to improve going into the Europeans. I feel we owe it to ourselves.

“Of course in the back of our minds, we’ll know that doing well in this will benefit Irish hockey in the longer term and hopefully we can follow Lisnagarvey’s lead this season and gain as many ranking points as possible.

“It is difficult when you know little about your opposition but we’ll have a good idea where we stand after the first round of games and what is required. The last time Quins played in this tournament (2007), they won it and achieved the second EHL place for Ireland, so we know what is required. We have a good squad travelling out, plenty of experience and some good young players. If we perform well in the first couple of days, we should be able to build on it. People can write our chances off and probably will, there’s not much we can do about it except focus on our own performances and doing well in each game. We certainly won’t need any external motivation.”

While the likes of Philip McLaughlin and Darren Farrell are still on the injured list, David Egner, Brian Hayes-Curtin and Darren Beamish have recovered in time and experienced Stockholm-based goalkeeper Chris Daunt has made himself available. Quins have pulled off a notable coup in getting former Irish underage international midfielder Colin Crowley — last seen patrolling the wing for UCC in rugby’s All-Ireland League — back playing hockey in time for Vienna.

A pair of U16 starlets, goalkeeper Jack Ryan and the club’s IHL top scorer Julian Dale, will also be given a chance to shine.

CORK HARLEQUINS (squad for EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy, Vienna): C Daunt (GK), J Ryan (GK); P O’Driscoll, R Hobbs, J Hobbs, D Hobbs, J Black; M Black, D Lombard, C Ross, D Beamish, C Crowley; J Dale, P Lombard, D Eakins, D Egner, B Hayes-Curtin, P Burns.

Schedule (all times Irish): Friday: Cork Harlequins v HC Bra (Italy), 1pm; Saturday: SV Arminen (Austria) v Cork Harlequins, 4pm; Sunday: Cardiff & UWIC v Cork Harlequins, 3pm. Monday: Classification matches.

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