Pegasus and Three Rock face double Dutch challenge in Europe

Pegasus and Three Rock Rovers are going double Dutch on Friday in their opening Euro Hockey League matches this weekend, facing what look like the toughest possible draws first up.

For Pegasus, they are in Amsterdam for the top tier EHL FINALS in a knock-out eight-team competition. In the strange Covid world, the Belfast side qualified for the competition as Ireland’s last formal champion, dating back to 2019’s EY Champions Trophy.

It means the side that qualified for the competition has undergone a number of changes in personnel and has also attempted to peak for the tournament a couple of times only for the postponement notices to go up.

“It seems like a lifetime ago we qualified for the EHL so finally getting to play is really exciting and I know the entire squad can’t wait to play against some of the best club teams out there,” she said.

“It has been strange to try and prepare now more than once but we are just relieved to be able to participate, finally. It has its positives and negatives being postponed for so long; we now have players who no longer play or have had children since we were due to play who will miss out, but we have also got the chance to develop some of our younger teammates.”

In the KO8, they are up against Den Bosch who are – without question – the greatest club side Europe has ever seen. They are the reigning EHL champions and have won 16 of the last 20 top tier Euro competitions, including a run of 12 successive victories between 2000 and 2011.

To that end, Maguire knows it will be a rare battle: “Yes, we certainly realise Den Bosch is the toughest opponent given their incredible record. We are not naive to the fact that it will be the toughest game we will have ever played in a Pegasus shirt, but it is such an opportunity to play against the best there is, and anything we take from this game is bonus.”

But what better arena to prepare for a huge run-in to the domestic season as they will return for an EY Champions Trophy quarter-final against UCD next Wednesday.

“We finished third in the league which, at the start of the season, we might have been happy with, but seeing how close the season finished we feel we could have pushed that bit further.

Pegasus’s Ruth Maguire on the attack against Muckross. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“We still have at least another three games to play after the tournament, so it is hard to have the focus for EHL and for the ‘business end of the season’ but our approach is simple- take one game at a time.”

How they fare on Friday will determine what their classification matches series looks like over the weekend.

For Three Rock, they are in their second EHL competition of the season, taking on the EHL Cup in Terrassa, Spain having played in the Ranking Cup last October as well.

Coach Elun Hack says his side “obviously made excellent progress” since then. There, they were undone by HC Minsk and Hampstead & Westminster with a new look team but Rovers have gone on to have a productive domestic season, winning the Leinster Mills Cup and only missing out on the EYHL regular season title on goal difference.

“We were a new team, thrown together last minute, but to have ended our regular season level on points with a really well established team like Garvey, shows in itself the progress that has been made.

“The plan now is keep building on the squad as we go, and hopefully do well in EHL, not only results wise as the opposition are some of the best in Europe, but well in terms of hitting our own goals and objectives, and get some good momentum going into the important playoff weekend.”

They are close to full strength but will miss Luke Adams for the weekend. Their KO8 tie is against HC Rotterdam who feature the EHL’s all-time highest goalscorer Jeroen Hertzberger along with Olympians Justen Blok and speedster Thijs van Dam.

Rotterdam, however, have been slightly off-kilter this season and sit ninth in the Dutch league which maybe offers some opportunity.

Three Rock Rovers with their Mills Cup trophy in March. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“Rotterdam, or any Dutch team is always going to be a challenge,” Hack added. “The level that these teams play at week in and week out, is much higher than we are used to or exposed to, so they will always have the upper hand.

“The talent in their squad and ability of their star players, will always pose a massive challenge. They are struggling, and that does mean some light at the end of the tunnel for us, but sometimes a weekend like EHL, can be the spark that they need.

“We will naturally give it our best shot, we are representing both TRR and Ireland, and want to give the best account of both that we possibly can, and miracles do happen; you just never know when and where.

“If we give our best, and play at a 9 or 10 out of 10, then who knows… but it will certainly be a really good challenge. It’s a great opportunity for our lads to test themselves against some of the best players in Europe.”

Like Pegasus, a win on Friday would put them into the top four playoffs while a loss lead into the fifth to eighth playoffs.

Friday, April 15th (times Irish)
EHL Cup, KO8:
Three Rock Rovers v HC Rotterdam, Club Egara, 1.15pm

Pegasus v Den Bosch, Wagener Stadium, 10.30am

Saturday, April 16th – Monday, April 18th
Classification matches – to be confirmed