HOCKEY: No divided loyalties for Ulster’s blue eyed boy at World League Two

Little did Ben Cosgrove  (right) know back in 2014 that this would be his last game in green and Lee Morton (left) was to be his Scottish team-mate at this weeks World League Two. Pic: Rowland White / Presseye

Little did Ben Cosgrove (right) know back in 2014 that this would be his last game in green and Lee Morton (left) was to be his Scottish team-mate at this weeks World League Two. Pic: Rowland White / Presseye

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Back in 2014, Ireland Under 21s saw off Scotland to clinch gold in the European Junior Championships II.

It marked another step forward for a talented squad. And nine of that 18 strong panel will this week be in senior action at World League Two - but only eight for the Green Machine.

Banbridge's Matthew Bell is hoping for a strong showing from tournament favourites and hosts Ireland.  Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

Banbridge's Matthew Bell is hoping for a strong showing from tournament favourites and hosts Ireland. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

Matthew Bell, Lee Cole, Jamie Wright, Neal Glassey, Johnny McKee, Sean Murray, Jeremy Duncan and Jamie Carr have all made the cut into Craig Fulton’s squad - and that leaves Ben Cosgrove.

The former Banbridge Academy captain will also be strutting his stuff at Stormont but he has swapped his green shirt for a blue one.

That means as he makes his competitive senior debut for Scotland, he will be doing it on his native soil.

“It will definitely be interesting,” he said. “If we got to play against Ireland, obviously that would be the big one. It will be very competitive because I know a lot of the Ireland guys having grown up with them, especially the Banbridge guys and the Garvey guys too. It will be all about bragging rights.”

Cosgrove, son of former Mossley coach Fergie, moved to Dundee to study dentistry after leaving Banbridge Academy in 2012 and that leap across the Irish Sea has shaped not only his professional, but also his sporting career.

“I played for Ireland up until Under 21 level but then when I moved over to Scotland, I just couldn’t commit to coming back to Ireland to train and push on to make it into the senior team,” he explained.

“I knew a lot of the Scottish coaches and players from playing against them up through the agre groups and when they got to know my situation, they approached me about switching to play for them. I’ve lived here for three years so it’s long enough to qualify and I had a year break between playing for Ireland at the Under 21 Euros and doing anything with Scotland. That was a long enough gap because I hadn’t played any senior games for Ireland.

“It wasn’t an easy choice. I had to think about it for a long time but I’m happy and all the Scottish lads have been brilliant in making me feel part of the team.”

Cosgrove’s presence at least gives Banbridge Academy a double chance of glory in WL2. Eugene Magee, Johnny McKee and Matthew Bell are all graduates of the County Down school.

“It’s a strange situation to be in because I’m so used to playing with Ben,” admitted Bell. “I’m happy to see him pursuing his dream of playing senior international hockey. It’s a huge honour no matter who you choose to play for so I have a lot of respect for him in that regard. I guess we will just have to wait and see how the cross over matches work out to see if we actually play against each other.”

“It’s also a different position for Ireland to be going in as top seeds, we are used to being the underdogs so being the highest ranked team in the tournament brings a different kind of pressure.

“The improvements that have been made over the last couple of years have enabled us to break in to the top 10 in the world rankings and we want to continue to build on that to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 and then on to Tokyo 2020. This is the start of that process so we’re hitting the ground running and looking forward to the challenge.”

And for Cosgrove, both sides making the final and getting through to the semi-final stage would be about perfect.

“That would be nice,” he agreed.

“We’re aiming to qualify at least. We’ll take each game as it comes so looking at the first one, we know we can beat France but we will have to play to our best in every game. It’s probably the closest tournament that any of us have ever played in. Any team could come first or last.

“It’s going to be a hard group but the crossover game is the big one. The quarter-final game will be huge, we just have to get ourselves into the semi-finals and take it from there.”

Cosgrove’s coach at Banbridge Academy Mark Cordner was full of praise for his ex skipper, who was the first person to win four Burney Cup titles before he left the school in 2012.

“We’re all absolutely made up for Ben,” said Cordner.

“His father put in a lot of hard work during his years as a teacher and hockey coach at the school and Ben is a chip off the old block in terms of his dedication to his sport. We’re delighted that he has continued to improve himself. Regardless of which country he is playing for, it’s a huge privilege to play international hockey and we wish him all the very best.”

While Cosgrove said he hasn’t gone as far as considering himself a Scot just yet, he is making a life for himself across the Irish Sea. He’s planning to stay on and work in Edinburgh after he graduates next year.

But making his international debut back home at least means his family will be there to watch - including his Tibetan terrier Oscar.

There will be more than two men and a dog at Stormont at 10.30am this morning, when Scotland begin their campaign against France.

Cosgrove’s old team-mates and Ireland begin at 3pm against Austria.