Paul Revington has left two places up for grabs this weekend with ten players vying for the remaining places in his men’s European selection having confirmed 16 of the players who will travel to Monchengladbach later this month.
Following a high-scoring summer which has helped secure three gold medals – the Celtic Cup, the Champions Challenge II and the INSEP Five Nations – and seven wins over higher ranked opposition, his panel continues to have an attacking outlook.
And the Irish coach says that his side is very much targeting a semi-final berth which would keep alive the possibility of reaching the Olympics at the first attempt.
When asked at today’s press conference by Irish Independent scribe David Medcalf whether the side was ‘just thinking of staying up but making a real go of it’, Revington answered: “I think that what we’ve done this summer answers your question”.
Indeed, when The Hook asked whether his side might have shown too much of their deck, citing Dutch coach Paul van Ass’s presence in Lille, Revington was similarly confident that his side had already piqued their opposition’s interest.
Ireland play the Netherlands in the third of their group games following ties against England and regular rival France in a bid to reach the semi-finals and potentially earn an Olympic spot.
“I think a fair message [that we mean business] was sent out when 12 to 14 players went across to European clubs. I think the Dutch got a sense of what we were about as a team and we’ll just keep moving on up.”
It was a suitably confident response off the back of recent results, making it a tricky selection to get right after a series of strong performances.
“It’s been tough, even in June, piecing it together strategically to achieve our various objectives. It was always going to be tough to get down to 16 or 18 players. We’ve still got one more step to go with some of the guys who didn’t get to go to INSEP have one last throw of the dice and that’s what we’ve been about with the squad.”
Among the ten waiting on tenterhooks to see if they fill the remaining places are defensive options Bruce McCandless, Stu Loughrey, Ronan Flannery and Joe Brennan. McCandless can also switch into midfield along with Phelie Maguire – dependent on the clearing of a knee injury – and Chris Cargo while the alternative striking options are Peter Blakeney and Gareth Watkins.
Alan Sothern also has a late chance to prove his fitness following his swift recovery from a metatarsal injury. Iain Walker completes the list as goalkeeping cover.
The panel itself included a couple of eye-opening inclusions with 17 year-old Ian Sloan chief among them. When asked about his inclusion, Revington sang the young Cookstown man’s praises and has confidence in his ability despite just five caps to his name.
“Everyone who has watched him knows of his quality. His quality is what we want and long may it continue. We’ve known of it for a while but it was a matter of watching his club performances. He’s still young; when a young guy gets mature enough to deal with senior hockey – he’s shown those signs throughout the last season and I think those who watched the senior cup final would have seen what he’s capable of.”
While the rest of the Irish U-18 side was informed of the need to take at least a month’s rest following their European exertions, Sloan was straight back in the fray at INSEP.
Asked if his workload might have been an issue, Revington responded that the nature of the U-18s peared down build-up and Sloan’s individual circumstances actually worked slightly in his favour despite initially seeming to be setbacks.
“In the Four Nations, he got injured [against Pakistan on his debut] which wasn’t ideal but, in hindsight, maybe that worked in a certain way. The U-18 programme wasn’t so significant that he was taxed to any detriment and was slightly beneficial in a strange way to us. He did well in the U-18s event, it’s a fine achievement to end as top-scorer.”
“I’m fortunate to have three high quality goalkeepers in our squad. As much as the field players have fought it out, it’s been a good battle between the three in the group,” was Revington’s comment on his inclusion.
As for the attacking nature of the panel, just Conor Harte, John Jackson and Ronan Gormley look to be out-and-out defenders with Paul Gleghorne and Andy McConnell flitting between midfield and the back four.
It’s a move the South African says is a symptom of the modern game and one that has been central to his side’s success in France of late, culminating in emphatic wins over Argentina and Korea.
“I think guys like Andy McConnell can do both. The last 18 months he’s done both. Over the Five Nations, we had Bruce McCandless playing a bit of both. I think it’s the nature of the way the game is going. Everyone has to defend with the auto-pass.
“I think we probably were that dominant in those games. I say “I think” but performance-wise, in defence and offence, it’s just been a progression of the weeks we have spent together. They were deserved victories.
“I’m not surprised with the quality of what we have in the squad; we are capable of doing it. It’s a matter of playing enough games, getting the results with the performance doesn’t always happen, but they put those two together and that leads to the next positive step.”
Ireland men’s squad for European championships (16 named, two to be added from reserve list) (Club, age/caps: D Ames (Beeston, 22/50); P Caruth (Annadale, 23/43); T Cockram (Lisnagarvey, 27/124); M Darling (Den Bosch, 23/69); D Fitzgerald (GK, Monkstown, 24/5); P Gleghorne (Instonians, 24/42); R Gormley (Club de Campo, capt, 28/127); C Harte (SCHC, 23/73); D Harte (GK, SCHC, 23/76); J Jackson (Mossley, 25/76); J Jermyn (Cork C of I, 29/128); E Magee (Dragons, 25/131); G McCabe (Santander, 25/94); A McConnell (Hurley, 25/50); I Sloan (Cookstown, 17/7); M Watt (Santander, 24/84)
Reserves: J Brennan (Glenanne); P Blakeney (Three Rock Rovers); C Cargo (Reading); R Flannery (Pembroke Wanderers); S Loughrey (Loughborough); P Maguire (Leuven); B McCandless (Banbridge), A Sothern (Den Bosch), G Watkins (Monkstown), I Walker (YMCA)
Upcoming fixtures (both in Belfield):
August 6: Ireland v Argentina, 3pm
August 7: Ireland v Argentina, 3pm
** Picture of Paul Revington courtesy of Brendan Moran/Sportsfile; for more of his pics from today’s press conference, click here