Balancing two world ranking events in one summer is proving the major juggling act for Paul Revington as he endeavours to deliver a fully functional side to August’s European championships.
For progression’s sake, promotion from the Champion’s Challenge II – which gets underway tomorrow in Lille – is a must to benefit the longer term, something which Ireland painfully missed out on two years ago in Dublin. Poland were their nemesis, fighting back from 3-1 down in the final and subsequently winning on penalty strokes.
Wiping away those memories is one thing but the Irish coach told the Hook this week that the bigger picture still is very much in mind.
This summer, Ireland’s men will play over 30 international games. To date, over 40 players have been used. It’s partly a by-product of the lack of an U-21 side but it has helped the coach blood new players with a view to extending a panel which was stretched to the limit two years ago.
“As you’ve seen, we’ve had a big squad to deal with a long, three month period. The group we have selected, we believe, is good enough to win the CC2 and still keep our group physically intact for the next couple of months.
“Getting that balance is our objective. We’re not making any excuses for performances. The larger squad and the way the players have pushed it has allowed us to make good decisions. In 2009, we teetered on a very fine line with the squad we had without any injuries in that time frame which we very fortunate with.
“Are we better equipped? I bloody hope so. Without an U-21 side, there are a lot of U-21 players in our squad. A lot of them have a healthy drive to do well and I think that has created a level of competition between everyone. They’re enjoying it and long may it last.
“The reality is for the players, the more they play a wide range of positions and opponents, experience-wise they learn more what they can do. Again, we’ve been fortunate to play different styles of teams. That’s got to be an advantage.”
Such competition has led to four world level debutants. For Peter Blakeney and Gareth Watkins, opportunity knocks following plenty of goals in the Celtic Cup and recent international series.
Dave Fitzgerald, immaculate in two games against Egypt this week, is breathing down the neck of Iain Walker for the number two goalkeeper’s smock while Stu Loughrey is the youngest member of the Champions Challenge panel having impressed in the UCD 4 Nations Cup.
It gives Revington the chance to rest the vastly experienced John Jermyn, Timmy Cockram, Phelie Maguire, Mitch Darling and Tim Lewis while hamstrung Ian Sloan, Bruce McCandless and Shane O’Donoghue have also stepped out.
They are drawn against Scotland, France and Russia in the group phase. The Scots provided tough opposition at the Celtic Cup a fortnight ago while the French – seeded higher than Ireland – remain a bogey side but a 7-1 win in Wales followed by a 6-0 success in Dublin suggest Ireland have major momentum.
Ireland last faced Russia at the 2009 Europeans, winning 2-1 in the final of the B division. Pool A consists of the USA, Austria, Czech Republic and top seeds China.
Revington suggests that, following this tournament in France, the panel will become more stream-lined as momentum builds towards the Europeans.
But he adds that despite the change in names, there will be no let up in pursuit of the Champions Challenge trophy.
“It’s not my style to play games, not to go to a tournament and do as well as we possibly can. Every game we play in Lille, we’ll be there to do as well as we can and get as high a finish as we can. If that means finishing first and heading to CC1, I think you and I and everyone else would be incredibly delighted with that.”
Ireland: David Harte (SCHC), David Ames (Beeston), Peter Blakeney (Three Rock Rovers), Joe Brennan (Glenanne), Chris Cargo (Reading), Peter Caruth (Annadale), David Fitzgerald (Monkstown), Alan Giles (Pembroke Wanderers), Paul Gleghorne (Instonians), Ronan Gormley (capt, Club de Campo), Conor Harte (SCHC), John Jackson (Mossley), Stuart Loughrey (Loughborough Students), Eugene Magee (Dragons), Geoff McCabe (Santander), Andy McConnell (Hurley), Gareth Watkins (Monkstown), Michael Watt (Santander)
Coach: Paul Revington
Asst Coach: Arul Anthoni
Manager: Peter Jackson
Physio: David Richards
S&C/Video: Jonny Caren
Video: Tristan Seaton-Stedham
FIH Men’s Champions Challenge II – Lille, France
Saturday: Ireland vs Scotland, 2pm (GMT)
Sunday: Ireland vs France, 4pm (GMT)
Tuesday: Ireland vs Russia, 3pm (GMT)
Saturday/Sunday: Classification matches
** Throughout the tournament, The Hook will be present in Lille and providing live twitter updates, click here to follow the games live. Reports will be posted on site throughout the tournament while more information can found on the FIH’s dedicated tournament site