Hailing from a family steeped in Three Rock Rovers history, Ali Haughton is back at his home club this season having previously aided their EHL cause in an alternative jersey.
Last October in ROUND1, he was in the line-up for Racing Club de France – in his fourth season in Paris – against the Dublin club. Racing fell to a chastening 6-0 defeat to Rovers who went on to draw with Spanish side Junior FC.
It left the French club as kingmakers in the group with Haughton potentially playing a direct role if they could keep Junior to below Rovers’ scoring total.
Initially, things did not look good as the Spaniards scored three goals inside 22 minutes but the defender was key in a backs to the wall performance that ultimately sent Three Rock through.
“It was more than just trying to help Rovers but, it was for our own sake,” he told the EHL website about that game. “We were disappointed after the first game. We had much better aspirations than that and didn’t take our opportunities early on.
“But, after that, there was a photo that went around from the [Racing] club president with me kissing the Rovers crest after the game against Junior!”
Their ROUND1 win saw them through to the KO16 in Eindhoven where they twice battled back to level 2-2 against KHC Dragons before falling 4-2.
Haughton had already been plotting his return to Dublin prior to that time. He had captained the club in the 2014/15 season when they contested the EuroHockey Trophy in Dublin, beating next Saturday’s opponents Grange 3-2 in the process.
The two clubs have since forged friendly links with the respective youth sections playing tournaments against each other in Ireland and Scotland.
Haughton is also hoping to come up against fellow Dubliner Frank Ryan who had intended on retiring from Grange action but had suggested he “might wheel out the kit one more time” after the draw was made.
But Haughton says he does not remember much about that 2015 showdown, saying the EHL was always where he wanted to be playing.
“The EHL is the only one we want to play in; we have this opportunity and it will be great having the Rovers jersey on!” he said.
“When I saw the lads win a couple of years ago and play in the EHL, it started sinking in that I wanted to be back here and playing. After four seasons away, it is going to be great.”
He rejoins a new look side that saw nine of last year’s line-up move on with international trio Daragh Walsh, Luke Madeley and Jamie Carr signed by KHC Leuven in Belgium.
On the flip side, Haughton’s returning experience is augmented by Welsh star James Kyriakides – a veteran of two Commonwealth games – while James Walker (from Australia) and Sam Grace (from college in Cork) also rejoined the club. Irish Under-21 Ben Johnson is another new arrival.
The changes will take some time to bed in with an opening day league defeat to UCD but they bounced back with a 5-2 success away from home against a strong Banbridge side.
“Results aside, you are not going to lose a league on the first day,” Haughton said. “We have lost quite a few players but myself and a few others have come back. We are working toward a process and have a new coach who is working to a new way of playing and when we come to Grange, it will be more well oiled.”
And new boss Elun Hack says the Bann win has them in a really positive mindset for their date with Grange.
“The lads really put in some serious effort, delighted for them to have gotten the result they worked really hard for!” he added.
“It was a massive confidence boost before next weekend; the team is buzzing after that, and it will hopefully stand us in good stead for Barcelona!”