Friday, August 21, 2009

Youthful experience to guide Ireland

Gene Muller brings Ireland’s youngest ever side to a major tournament as they begin their EuroHockey Nation’s Championships tomorrow morning in Amsterdam with the unenviable task of facing reigning champions Germany.

They do so, though, with the psychological boost of a 1-0 win over England in a midweek warm-up match - Eimear Cregan (pictured, left) scoring a penalty corner - as well as getting an idea of the game-speed in the offing in a 40-minute run around against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

It gave the side some much needed game time after a three-game series against Azerbaijan was cancelled at short notice due to visa complications.

Emma Smyth (pictured, below right) picked up a head injury which required stitches in midweek but has been cleared to play meaning Muller has a full bill of health for the tournament and told the Hook: “I’m quite happy with where we’re at.

“The first call is always to make sure that everyone is healthy and fit. We’ve achieved that. I’m quite happy. I think we have the best players here and they’re all raring to go.”

The one change from June’s Champion’s Challenge panel – the summer’s other ranking event – is the return of Cliodhna Sargent in place of Niamh Small. The nature of the tournament meant Muller was looking for extra defensive cover, reverting back to his preferred squad make-up.

“It just depends where you need cover; basically it’s just what players are needed for which roles.

“Normally, in a squad of 18, we only travel with four midfielders. It was rare for us to take five to a tournament, normally its six defenders and six forwards. For that tournament, I went with one less defender.”

Ireland bring the youngest side into the tournament with an average age of 23 years and eight months. On the flip side, though, his side are more experienced in caps terms compared with any of their predecessors with the average currently at the 60 cap mark.

Muller feels his side might be two years away from their ideal demographic but have plenty to play for in a demanding series of group games against the Germans, world number seven side Spain and the up-and-coming Scotland.

“There are two aims, the first of which is most important: staying up. I think we must try and stay up for our chances at 2012 as it gives us two shots at qualifying.

“Secondly, if things go well, is to get to the world cup. Our pool is probably the most competitive one I’ve ever coached in over 200 international appearances as a coach. The Germans are the reigning champions, the Spanish are very much a team on the up. This is exactly the same team that went to the Olympics with 50 extra caps added per player. The Scots are probably the best Scottish team I’ve seen in my time as a coach.

“But it’s a pool where I think the main aim is to play well. If we do that, we should stay up. If we play exceptionally well, we’ve a chance of getting to the World Cup.

“I feel pretty confident with this group that even though they are young, they are mature. They’ve been together for the Olympic qualifiers and the Champion’s Challenge so there’s a track record of adversity and you need that, you have to be able to bank that. The question is whether it is enough to put us through. I’m fully trusting of our resilience; we’re going to need that.”

EuroHockey Nations Championship, Wagener Stadium, Amsterdam:

Ireland squad (club/caps): L Barr (Ballymoney/13), E Clarke (Ulster Elks/76), B Cleland (Ballymoney/132), L Colvin (Loreto/17), E Cregan (Cork Harlequins/154, capt), R Flinn (UCD/59), M Frazer (Ballymoney/16), M Goode (Bray/57), E Gray (Hermes/11), M Harvey (Pegasus/18), L Jacob (UCD/54), S McCay (Ulster Elks/71), C McKean (Loreto/125), C Sargent (Cork Harlequins/46), A Speers (Pegasus/60), E Smyth (Railway Union/12), E Stewart (Armagh/77), N Symmons (Loreto/122)

Schedule (all Irish times):
Today (10.30am): Ireland v Germany
Tomorrow (8.30am): Ireland v Scotland
Tuesday (12.30pm): Ireland vs Spain
Thursday and Saturday: Classification matches/finals

* To leave a message of support for the team, go to the IHA's facebook page; live streaming should be available througout the tournament on this site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 3 wise men .......