Banbridge Ladies’ promotion paves the way to a bright future for women’s hockey in the local area.
That’s the hope of coach Robin Madeley, whose excitement is clear at the prospect of leading a Bann team into the top level in Ulster hockey for the first time.
“It’s a really big deal for hockey in the area,” he said.
“The men’s game has traditionally had a bigger profile in the town due to their success but now this is a great achievement for the club by the ladies.”
So what exactly does it mean for local hockey?
Well, Banbridge Academy has also seen a rise in the prominence of girls’ hockey in recent seasons. There are plenty of talented young girls being produced in the area and now they have the opportunity to play Premier League hockey in the town.
Madeley said: “Hopefully we will now be an attractive place for girls coming up through the Academy.
“The likes of Kerri McDonald, who is an Irish international, came up through the Academy but had to go away to play top level hockey. Hopefully we can go on to give girls like her a chance to do it in Banbridge.”
And Madeley knows he has a stream of stars making the way towards the club’s first team.
He said: “We have a fantastic bunch and we have some really great young players coming up through the club. We have the likes of Ellen Reid, Gemma Hassan and Nadia Benallal who are all great talents.
“Our first team squad is quite young too, we have the likes of Gina Woods and Charley Brush who are still at school so they will all progress.
“My main objective is to keep this group together. There’s a great bond between all the girls in the squad.”
In recent seasons, Bann have even attracted fresh blood from further afield. Ex-Portadown forward Rachel Kerr is now the side’s top scorer and former Lurgan duo Samantha Bann and Heather Johnston also joined Banbridge.
While he has confidence that his current side have the quality to step up, Coach Madeley is open to Bann’s promotion seeing more girls arriving from other clubs.
He said: “We’re not going to go actively looking for players but people know we’re going to be playing Premier League hockey. If they want to come and talk to us, we’re happy to do that.
“Maybe people who are playing second 11 hockey elsewhere feel they deserve a chance.”
As for the current crop of stars, Madeley reckons he has a group well capable of holding their own in Ulster’s Premier League next season.
“Winning the league reinforces the girls’ confidence that they are good enough,” he said.
“We know they are. We have played a lot of games against Premier League teams in friendlies and we have held our own. We know we can match teams like Dungannon, Portadown or Garvey.
“We know the quality is there, we just have to be that little bit sharper and get used to playing at a higher pace.”
But that won’t happen overnight and Madeley is keen to remind his charges that the hard work is only just beginning.
He said: “The girls know that pre-season for the Premier League starts this week. That’s what we have to be looking towards now.
“The likes of Lurgan are quicker and sharper so we have to be ready for that and make the step up.”
In order to prevent any of this crop being tempted away, Madeley can now dangle the carrot of Premier Legaue hockey.
And that means his five-year plan is on course.
When he took over the helm at the start of last season, he planted the dream of reaching the IHL within the next half a decade.
That goal certainly came closer last week when Bann’s promotion to the top level of Ulster Hockey was confirmed.
But could they really get another promotion in only three years?
“This is another step towards that goal,” said Madeley. “It’s good to have something like that to work towards.
“It’s going to be difficult. We would need to win the league and the play-off. We would need a bigger squad but we wouldn’t need an overhaul to get to that level.”
Madeley certainly has a lot of belief in the talent he currently has at his disposal. And he knows that there are more future stars making their way towards the first team.