Railway Union coach Mick McKinnon says he has never seen Park Avenue “more buzzing” as the club welcomes EuroHockey Club Champion’s Trophy this weekend for their maiden run at a continental outdoor competition.
Their final group position will determine which one of Easter Monday’s playoff places they occupy with top spot earning a place in the tournament’s final.
Railway will be without Irish internationals Julia O’Halloran (sprained shoulder) and Nikki Evans (broken hand, pictured below) but they are upbeat ahead of a tournament which is seen in some ways as a shot to nothing.
Any nerves on the European stage were scarcely in evidence when the Sandymount club blitzed the indoor scene earlier this year and McKinnon believes that experience could have a strong influence as his side take on a journey into the unknown.
“It’s a culturally different thing; the difference in playing a multi-game tournament which we don’t do in Ireland other than the interpros which is the exciting part for the girls. It’s a less pressure, more fun environment which is healthy.
“Playing new sides, that’s the exciting part about it. I tried to look on the internet to gauge the levels of the other teams but it’s very difficult, especially with the Eastern European teams.
“We know the Scots have seven internationals and the Belgians have a rake of internationals on their team. It’s obviously going to be a very high standard; Loreto came sixth last year in the equivalent tournament last year so that is what we’d use as our basis for a form guide.”
And McKinnon has said that last week’s training camp – during which his side interspersed doing a paint-job on the changing rooms – has helped galvanise all sections of the club.
“I’ve never seen Railway more buzzing. Playing the same teams year in, year out; its something difference which, with the exception of Alex Speers, no one in the team has experienced. It’s a brilliant opportunity for us and one that we would be remiss if we didn’t enjoy as well as trying to play well.
“The club has come up trumps; not just the hockey club but the sports club in general. What they’ve allowed the team to do is concentrate on the hockey. We’ve had contributions from the soccer, cricket, tennis section – every section of the club – has come out and helped.
“The place has never looked better and its been a total club effort as opposed to just the hockey club. I’m thoroughly impressed and the girls are really grateful for all the effort.”
As for the competition itself, while McKinnon is keen for his side to enjoy themselves, this will be augmented further should they challenge for the title.
“We enter every tournament with the intention of winning. You’d be foolish not to. We have an expectation of the way we want to perform ourselves. It is guesswork as we don’t know exactly where we are but that suits us, to be the underdogs.
“I’m excited about taking on teams that are probably higher ranked in Europe than us. We’ll try and finish as high as we can. With Kolos pulling out, to win the tournament, we need to play four games against a team that’s played three. It’s going to be tough.”
He is referencing HC Kolos Borispol – Ukraine’s other side in the competition – disqualification from the competition earlier this week for failure of the club to confirm and pay hotel deposits, and their failure to confirm travel details to the hosts, in spite of several reminders from the EHF.
It has led to a slight change in the tournament structure with Group B reduced to a game a day while Railway will stay at their allotted 3pm time slot on each day of the group stages.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s ladies will be in action over the weekend at Belfield with a three-game series against France, playing on Saturday at 5pm in Pembroke before playing on Sunday and Monday in UCD.
The panel is without its Railway contingent but Aine Connery (pictured, below) could win her first cap since 2007 while Niamh Atcheler is included in the squad despite her recent injury travails which limited her involvement in UCD’s Irish Senior Cup semi-final.
EuroHockey Club Champion’s Trophy, tournament Schedule:
Group A, Friday: Metrostroy St Petersburg (Russia) vs Victorya Smolevichi (Belarus), 1pm; Saturday: Metrostroy St Petersburg vs Grove (Scotland), 1pm; Sunday: Grove vs Victorya Smolevichi, 1pm
Group B, Friday: Railway Union vs MSC Sumchanka, 3pm; Libertas San Saba vs Royal Wellington, 5pm; Saturday: Railway Union vs Royal Wellington, 3pm; Libertas San Saba (Italy) vs MSC Sumchanka (Ukraine), 5pm; Sunday: Railway Union vs Libertas San Saba, 3pm; MSC Sumchanka vs Royal Wellington, 5pm
Women’s international series:
Saturday: Ireland vs France, 5pm, Serpentine Avenue; Sunday: Ireland vs France, 3pm, Belfield; Monday: Ireland vs France, 12pm, Belfield
Ireland squad: Emma Gray (Hermes), Pamela Smithwick (Old Alex), Michelle Harvey (Pegasus), Chloe Watkins (UCD), Cliodhna Sargent (Cork Harlequins), Anna O’Flanagan (Hermes), Miriam Crowley (UCC), Niamh Atcheler (UCD), Shirley McCay (Old Alex), Lisa Jacob (Hermes), Aine Connery (Hermes), Nicola Symmons (Loreto), Audrey O’Flynn (Hermes), Sinead McCarthy (Hermes), Lizzie Colvin (HGC), Nicola Daly (Loreto), Niamh Small (Loreto), Gillian Pinder (Hermes)
** On Sunday, one of the legends of Railway Union and Irish Hockey will retire after 50 years of loyal service. Rita Parsons worked for half a century in Railway as treasurer, among other roles, seven days a week, mostly on a voluntary basis.
She is known and loved by many generations of people all over the country, having played hockey for the Railway ladies first team and also represented Leinster. She captained Railway ladies seconds to the Irish Junior cup in the 1970s and was renowned as a tough and fearless goalscorer.
She also played tennis in the club to great success. After her playing career, Rita became president of the Leinster Hockey Branch, treasurer of the Irish Ladies Hockey Union and assistant treasurer of the Irish Hockey Association.
She has won many accolades including the prestigious President’s award for her outstanding contribution to Irish hockey and is one of only a handful of Honorary Life Members of the IHA.
The club are organising a SURPRISE retirement party for Rita on Sunday, April 24 in Railway Union – don’t worry, she doesn’t use the internet so won’t be able to read this! – with the party following Railway’s game with Libertas San Saba.
Please come and support in recognition of Rita’s huge contribution to Railway Union and Irish Hockey in general.