Stephen Dowds shines as Banbridge end long wait for European glory

Banbridge's Stephen Dowds celebrates
Banbridge's Stephen Dowds celebrates

Banbridge are proud European champions after a wait of 29 long years.

Bann produced a top drawer performance over the four days to lift the Eurohockey Champions Challenge title with four straight wins in the Czech Republic.

The Ulster side stood head and shoulders above their European opponents, with Stephen Dowds a deserved Man of the Tournament after notching up a double hat-trick during the tourney.

Bann needed to defeat Akkord HC from Azerbaijan, and they looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory as they raced into an early two-goal lead.

Dowds put the Ulster side ahead with a well executed penalty corner, sending the ball high into the net for the opener.

And shortly after Josh Moffet collected a Eugene Magee pass to make it 2-0.

But the Azerbaijan opponents were back in the game when they reduced the deficit minutes later.

And with the Bann defence at sixes and sevens, Akkord scored again to level it.

The four games in as many days were taking their toll on the Bann players, and coupled with the high temperatures and some very dubious severe tackling, there was some relief for the players when the half-time whistle went.

Bann had a dream start when Dowds rifled home another penalty corner just two minutes after the restart.

But Bann proceeded to waste a host of chances as they searched for another goal.

Finally it did come when Dowds clinched his second hat-trick of the tournament, slamming home another penalty corner.

Akkord refused to lie down and they reduced the deficit again with another goal, only to see Bruce McCandless restore Bann’s two-goal advantage soon after.

Bann were still hungry for goals and Philip Brown wrapped it up when he scored a rare goal from close range to secure the Euro Champions Challenge title.

The result now means that the Ireland’s representatives next season are promoted to Eurohockey Club Champions Trophy.

And in a double celebration, Monkstown also tasted European success when they won the Eurohockey Champions Trophy in Caglari, Italy.

Meanwhile, Ulster’s Iain Lewers held his nerve to secure England a place in the semi-final of the World Cup with a superbly executed penalty stroke four minutes from full time as they defeated Belgium 3-2 in Holland.

England now face the Dutch – who are expected to top the other group – on Friday.