LISNAGARVEY will write a new chapter in their already illustrious history when they compete in the Euro Hockey League this weekend.
Garvey travel to East Grinstead, a short distance outside London, for their first foray into the EHL, which is now in its sixth season.
Last year Banbridge and Cookstown were the first two Ulster sides to compete in the EHL when they made the trip to Antwerp in Belgium.
And anyone who experienced that event will know just what a treat lies in store for Garvey and their travelling band of 50 supporters.
Neither Bann nor Cookstown managed to progress in last season’s competition - so the incentive is there for Garvey to break new ground by becoming the first Ulster side to qualify for the 16-team knock-out stages, which begin next April.
To do that they have to finish in the top two in a three-team pool which includes HC Bloemendaal from Holland and French champions Lille.
In all honesty it’s a straight fight between Garvey and Lille for the second qualification place with Bloemendaal, previous winners in 2009 and again among the competition favourites, red-hot favourites to win both their games.
Bloemendaal boast among their squad captain Teun de Nooijer, a three-time winner of the world player of the year award and recognised as one of the best players ever to have played the game.
“Dutch sides are brilliant, among the best in the world, and the gulf in class between them and teams from over here is huge,” admitted Garvey coach Kyle Lunn.
“But I think we will be reasonably well matched with the French side. French teams are competitive and physical. The luck of the draw has given us a game we could win and it’s now down to what happens on the day.”
There is history between Garvey and Lille with Kyle part of the Garvey squad which beat Lille 1-0 in their own backyard in the old European B Division in 1993.
Kyle reckons this is Garvey’s 13th European adventure - a fantastic record - and their first since a trip to Zurich in 2006.
That means it will be the first experience of European hockey for many of their squad and they can’t wait for it to come around.
“This is the pinnacle, we will be playing against some of the best players in the world. It will be an honour to represent the club on this stage and to follow in the footsteps of some of the great Garvey teams of the past.”
Preparations, however, have not been all that Kyle would have hoped for with a number of injury worries ahead of the tournament.
Among those have been Mark Raphael, Steven Arbuthnot and Richard Arneill, although probably the most concern has surrounded talisman Timmy Cockram - one of Garvey’s two current Irish internationals along with Jonathan Bell.
“Timmy has suffered a lot from a groin injury, but we are hopeful he will be able to start. He is likely to have limited involvement but in any case is an impact player and will be happy just to take what he can give us.
“Our preparations have suffered due to injuries and we have been chopping and changing the team this season.
“But we have still managed to reach the final of the Kirk Cup and got a draw up at Cookstown in the league and we will be going to Europe in a positive frame of mind.”
Garvey face Lille on Saturday afternoon and Bloemendaal on Sunday afternoon. Lille play Bloemendaal on Friday, the tournament’s opening day.