This weekend marks the beginning of a new era for Bangor Hockey Club with fixtures scheduled for the first time on not one, but two new pitches.
The club is now spoilt for choice with the provision of spanking new facilities at the new Bangor Grammar School at Gransha Road and the superb state-of-the-art Aurora Leisure Centre.
The new pitch at Bangor Grammar will cement the already strong relationship with the school, where so many of the club’s players develop their interest in the sport.
While the £38m Aurora complex, which officially opens in March and includes a ten-lane 50-metre swimming pool, is one of the most ambitious leisure projects ever undertaken in Ireland.
Bangor had been using the council-owned facility at Ballykillaire, which has been their base since 1996, as well as facilities at Bangor Academy.
But the new sand-dressed pitches at both the grammar school and leisure centre will now see most of the action.
Club secretary George Wilson said: “With both pitches being used for the first time this weekend it means we have now brand new state-of-the-art facilities available to accommodate all five men’s teams and also the local ladies club.
“We will also be reinforcing our links with the grammar school by using their new facilities for training.”
So everything bodes well for the future of the club, which has a history stretching back until 1921.
At present there are five men’s teams with the first team playing in Senior One and the other four sides in the junior leagues.
The Firsts are coached by former international star Mark Burns, who in 2011 became the first Cookstown player to be inducted into Irish Hockey’s Hall of Fame.
Bangor dropped out of the Premier League two seasons ago after an eight-year spell in the top flight during which they caused Ulster’s top teams more than their fair share of problems.
Last week they suffered the disappointment of losing to Raphoe in the final of the Linden Cup, while a league defeat at Newry at the weekend was also a setback.
But they remain one of six teams at the top end of Senior One separated by only four points so a strong second half of the season could yet see them feature in the promotion shake-up.
An Anderson Cup final defeat by Mossley in 1989 was the closest the club has ever come to winning a senior trophy, although there have been semi-final appearances in both the Anderson and Kirk Cups.
There has been plenty of success, however, at junior level, while a number of high-profile players have come through the Bangor set-up.
And there is no bigger name in Irish hockey than Stephen Martin, a member of the 1988 Great Britain Olympic gold medal-winning squad in Seoul, South Korea.
A recipient of the MBE, he also won the bronze medal in Los Angeles four years earlier and also competed for GB at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
Stephen came through Bangor Grammar and the local club before moving on to play at a higher level, the same of which can be said of current Irish star Chris Cargo, now plying his trade for top English club Reading.
The club, which uses the facilities at Pickie Bowling Club for meetings and some functions, has also provided countless other players to have gained representative honours.
And in current president Raymond Parker they have one of the longest playing participants in the sport in Ireland.
Raymond still turns out for the club, as he has done every season since 1968.
Other club stalwarts include Walter Dowdall, after whom the new pitch at the grammar school is being named. Walter is a former Ulster and Irish president and along with Harry Brady, a former club president, played a key role in the setting up of the hugely popular and successful Bangor Sixes.
The Sixes, which ran for 50 years from 1955, was a pre-season tournament for both men and ladies which regularly attracted around 100 teams. At one time it was thought to be the largest tournament of its kind in the British Isles. The club was also well known for hosting an 11-a-side floodlit tournament in the eighties.
John Smyth, another former Ulster and Ireland president, was instrumental in introducing hockey into Bangor Grammar in 1964 and since then the school has won all the big schools honours in the form of the All-Ireland title, the Burney Cup and the McCullough Cup.
It’s names like these, as well as the new blood in the club, which will help to ensure a bright future.
Mini and youth hockey, under the guidance of current first team player and youth development coach James Trimble, continue to flourish.
“James has done a fantastic job, putting in place a good structure with an increased focus on the primary schools,” said George.
And it is the young blood, in conjunction, with the superb new facilities which will ensure Bangor Hockey Club continues to go from strength to strength in the coming years.
Anyone seeking more information or trying to get in contact with the club should do so via the website at www.bangorhockeyclub.com