Craig Fulton’s Pembroke side may have swept all before them in the past two seasons, with seven titles and counting since the start of 2009, but they enter a new dimension this evening when they take on one of the EuroHockey League’s most formidable oppositions.
Draws do not much tougher than the KO16 tie with Rot-Weiss Koln, who even on debut were the master performers in round one of the competition, smashing Italy's Club Bra before Christopher Zeller's drag-flicks dismantled another tournament favourite, HC Egara.
But Pembroke’s under-stated celebrations following their Leinster league and Mills Cup wins in the last few weeks suggests that this is very much the level they wish to test themselves at.
Fulton told the Hook in the wake of the 2-0 win over Three Rock, the long gap between the group phases and this knock-out fixture have made it a tough season to manage.
“The complexity of this season has been with the Irish guys going away in November, then trying to fit in three fixtures and to not affect our EHL, we’ve always had more than one thing on the go and have had to peak twice in one season. Obviously, that’s something we’ve managed to do with a good squad so far.”
Three trophies since the turn of the year suggest it is coming into shape at the right time and with two weeks of focussed training in the tank, the coach will hope to pull together the performance of the season for what is a huge challenge.
Speaking to the Irish Times this week, he said of the Koln proposition: “The tempo of this match will be higher certainly. We have to manage that and then maybe we can back ourselves to get into it. We are in the top 16 in Europe at this stage so it is the pinnacle in terms of European competition and it is a fantastic challenge for us.”
Pembroke reached the KO16 courtesy of a stunning 4-2 win over Kelburne in the autumn in Barcelona courtesy of Alan Sothern’s first quarter hat-trick – including the fastest goal ever in EHL competition.
They followed with a purely academic loss to Rotterdam – another of the tournament’s front-runners – to take the runners-up spot and get thrown into the lion’s den in the draw.
Koln are the new glamour side in Germany rising from relative obscurity since the arrival to the club of Zeller brothers Christopher and Philipp from a stint with Bloemendaal.
A year on and they had claimed the German title with several other Olympic gold medalists in tow such as Benjamin and Timo Wess, Tibor Weissenborn, Tobias Hauke, Jan-Marco Montag and goalkeeper Max Weinhold.
It makes for a truly daunting task. The Zeller brothers said this week, in an EHL interview, they have full respect for ‘the Wanderers’, stating the tie is a trip into the unknown.
But if there is any latent thoughts of this being an easy fixture for the Germans, Irish keeper David Harte is hoping his side to capitalise.
He told Southern Fried: “We saw them in round one of the EHL and it’s clear to see they like very fast free flowing, counter attack hockey but this brings weaknesses with their game too.
“We are not fearing them by any means but they must and will be respected if we are to seriously compete.
“We are the underdogs, so much that others are already talking about who Köln play in the quarter-finals, and we will hope to use this to our advantage and take our chances when they fall to us. In a one-off game like this, especially in the EHL, anything is possible.”
* Action gets underway at 4pm Irish time. You can watch the match live online at www.ehlhockey.tv while Eurosport 2 is broadcasting the majority of this weekend’s matches over the weekend. Fancy a flutter, bwin has a sports book open on all the EHL fixtures this weekend.