Ballymoney Blaze are training hard for the start of the league and also their trip to Kosovo
Ballymoney Blaze are training hard for the start of the league and also their trip to Kosovo

As the first team from Northern Ireland to compete in the prestigious CEV Challenge Cup since 2007, Ballymoney Blaze are putting everything into their preparations.

With their training well underway, plans have changed for their opening encounter. When the draw was made for the first leg of the Cup, Blaze were delighted to get their campaign started with a home game, however, now both legs will be played in Kosovo.

Coach Johnny McClenaghan explained: “When we found out we were going to be playing in the Challange Cup we thought our first match would be at home on 25th or 26th October. We understood that we would then travel to Kosovo the following weekend for the second leg, with the winner playing against a team from Cyprus two weeks after that.

“That has changed now and it looks like both games will be held in Kosovo over the weekend of 24th and 25th October to save money for both clubs and at the moment we are just waiting on confirmation of that.

“We’ll definitely miss the home support, but ultimately playing both games in the same place is something I suggested. I’d spoken to CEV about costs etc on the basis that they’re trying to cut down on travel for teams in this competition, which didn’t quite work out for us with Kosovo probably being as far away as we could have ended up. CEV suggested that we could play both games in the same place if the other team agreed as it would be a potential way to save money for both teams.

“So I eventually managed to talk the president of the team from Skenderaj into playing both games in the same place in one weekend. Unfortunately for us he wanted to play both games in Kosovo, but based on the costs associated with the competition it means we’re in a better position to play in round 2 now if we win.”

Before Ballymoney Blaze can tackle their European opposition they must first turn their attention to the league.

“Fixtures for the league come out this week, so we’re all excited to see how they work out,” added Johnny. “We’ll be among the favourites for the league this season and we hope to back it up with some great performances. We have some great players in the team and we’ll be looking to go one step further than last year to match the performances of 2010 when we won the league.”

To read more about Ballymoney Blaze go to page 37