COOKSTOWN Hockey Club return to European hockey action after a wait of twenty three years this weekend.

The Coolnafranky outfit coached by Michael Haycock and Stephen Cuddy will travel to Antwerp in Belgium this weekend to face some of Europe’s best hockey sides.

The Reds open the tournament against Reading HC tomorrow afternoon and conclude their group stages on Saturday with a fixture against Amsterdam. Both of the fixtures will take place at the Dragons Hockey Club in Antwerp. Reading have qualified for the Euro Hockey League for the fifth successive season – the only English club to achieve this. Amsterdam are a side which is packed with top internationals such as Taeke Taekema who has over 100 caps for the Netherlands.

Coach Michael Haycock was looking forward to the trip and was eager to get started.

“Playing at the very highest level will do wonders for the club and for our players. We have a young squad which is developing superbly and we cannot wait to get started. Make no doubt about it we are facing some of the best players in the world and we should be proud of how we are competing at the very highest level of the sport.”

Haycock spoke of how proud he was of his young squad and he stated that they are going to compete against teams at the very top of the game.

“It is a tremendous achievement. We have had a number of really progressive seasons where they side have been constantly developing and this is a huge reward for all effort everyone has put in. There is a real buzz around the club at the moment from the senior players, the supporters and the youth teams.”

Godfrey Irwin described it as a real honour to be leading out the side this weekend and stated that there is a real buzz around the club.

“It is a huge honour for myself. A few of the more experienced guys on the panel thought this day would never come. We are delighted to be part of it. This is a huge reward for all the hard work we put in last season when we won the Senior Cup.”

Reds skipper Irwin admitted that it will be a tough task to go out and get a result but nonetheless they are going out to enjoy themselves.

“We know that we are facing two of the best sides in the tournament. Reading and Amsterdam will be up there as favourites. We are going into the tournament as massive underdogs. We are under no pressure to go out and force results. At the end of the day we are going out to enjoy ourselves and give both of the teams two really hard fought games. We are certainly not going to just roll over and let them beat us!”

Irwin stated that attentions will quickly turn to the domestic scene on their return home and they are looking forward to attempting to bring more silverware to Cookstown.

Last Saturday evening, Cookstown District Council hosted a civic reception for the squad and wished them all the best in this exciting adventure to Antwerp. Present at the reception were the 1981 and 1988 Cookstown Hockey sides who played in a European competition.