Banbridge Hockey Club’s men’s first-team squad is stronger than ever.
That’s the confident hope of Head Coach Mark Tumilty as they attempt to clinch an Irish Hockey League and Irish Senior Cup double.
Few could argue with him, especially after Saturday’s 5-1 dismantling of Dublin giants Monkstown in their own back yard, followed just a day later by a 4-0 Senior Cup semi-final mauling of Corinthian.
While the boss acknowledges that ‘no silverware has been won yet,’ he reckons his current crop of players is better than it has been in previous season.
“I think it is,” said Tumilty. “The squad is maturing. The likes of Kyle Marshall, Johnny McKee, Jamie Wright and Jake Rowe are maturing and there’s a big difference now from a coaching point of view.
“We have got accustomed to the IHL as well. Last year we were a bit blind but we know we have to prepare well for every game and this year we have delivered on that so far.
“We’re in a good position but we have a difficult game this weekend against Pembroke and there is no room for slip-ups. Three Rock are waiting to pounce and we have to be wary of that.
“Pembroke will be a big challenge. They have Alan Southern and they are very dangerous.”
Bann’s position two points clear at the top of the IHL is perhaps even stronger given that five of their last six games are at home, including Saturday’s fixture against Pembroke (pass-back 2.45).
Bann will wecome back Matty Allister and Ross Beattie, although Jamie Wright will be unavailable.
Eugene Magee netted twice while Bell, Ward and McKee were also on target in Saturday’s landmark success over old rivals Monkstown.
“We played well,” reflected Tumilty. “We were very clinical as well, which we haven’t been throughout the season.
“It was a good team performance as opposed to individual displays and we did it with a few players missing.
“They have beaten us in three IHL finals and in an Irish Senior Cup semi-final as well. We’ve drawn with them three times last season and earlier this season.
“This time, we got it right tactically. We learned a few things from previous games against them and we thoroughly deserved the victory.”
Bann picked up where they left off a day later as Matthew Bell scored twice while Eugene Magee and Johnny McKee also found the net to tee up a second Irish Cup final in three seasons.
“Maybe we don’t appreciate it as much as we should but it’s brilliant to be there again,” said Tumilty of the final on April 2 at UCD.
“We’ve only been in the final twice since 1987 and it’s great to be back there again. We need to grasp the opportunity and go on and win it.
“It’s a great occasion and there will be a good crowd, especially now it’s a one-off final rather than a weekend double-header.”
And all that’s without so much as a mention of April’s EHL KO16.
It’s fair to say it has so far been a season of dreams at Havelock Park. Now the task is to convert it all to the reality of silverware.