Hockey: Inverleith hopes high for European debut

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INVERLEITH make their European debut when they entertain Racing Club Bruxelles of Belgium today in their opening match of the European Indoor Club Trophy at the Engage Sports Centre at Napier University in Edinburgh.

It will be no picnic for the Edinburgh side as the opposition in this league-based format are national champions and are also seasoned European campaigners. AD Lousada (Portugal) are next up later today, then Slagesle (Denmark) and HC 1972 Rakovnik (Czech Republic) tomorrow, and finally Kolos-Sekvoia Vinnitsa (Ukraine) and Lille (France) on Sunday.

Following the withdrawal of the Polish champions through a clash of fixtures – Poland are due to play in the Olympic Qualifier in New Delhi at the same time – the remaining seven teams were rescheduled to play on a round-robin basis. It is now something of a cut-throat competition. The top two will be promoted to the elite Championship level, while the bottom two are relegated.

Stuart Neave, Inverleith’s coach, said: “As with any competition we enter, our target is to win. Obviously, that is easy to say and, despite the high standard of this competition, I feel we have a good squad of players capable of competing at this level.

“With the assistance of Billy McPherson and Harry Byers at Menzieshill, I have now seen footage of all the competing teams and we will need to be at our best to win.

“And the round-robin format of the tournament also leaves very little room for error.”

Neave has been meticulous in preparing his charges for the big European initiation. Inverleith have participated successfully in the Grove Menzieshill tournament last December and their own Richard Docherty Cup in early January.

Although the Edinburgh side lost their Subway indoor national league crown to rivals Menzieshill, that was only by the narrow margin of two goals as the teams finished level on points.

In addition, Neave’s squad gained revenge by beating the Taysiders 7-6 to take last weekend’s knock-out cup.

Playing at home in Edinburgh could prove to be a double-edged sword, however. They will have the advantage of a vociferous home crowd to urge them on, but it could also put additional pressure on the squad to succeed.

“Playing in Europe is very important to the players and, given that the club are hosting the event, it is of huge importance to everyone at Inverleith,” said Neave.

Although this is Inverleith’s first sojourn into European indoor hockey, Neave pointed out that many of his players have played at international level, including Olympians Stephen Dick and Graham Moodie, along with Scotland players Adam MacKenzie, goalkeeper Allan Dick, Derek Salmond and Andrew Sinclair. But the absence of Chris Grassick through injury is definitely a blow to Neave’s aspirations. He is an influential player who can score from both open play and set pieces.

With the withdrawal of the Poles, Inverleith have the unenviable title of favourites to take the gold and promotion as, last year, Menzieshill were relegated from the elite top eight. Full points from today’s games against Racing Club and Lousada would help Neave’s squad get rid of early tournament nerves.