Irish U-18 coach Richie Malone says that while his side’s preparations have been limited in some respects, he says that his team is in great shape ahead of this week’s EuroHockey U-18 girls championships in Belfield.
Ireland take on Wales at 5pm on Monday evening in the first of their three group games – meeting the Netherlands on Tuesday and France on Thursday – with a place in next weekend’s semi-finals the initial target.
In previous girls’ youth nations events has seen Ireland end just short of the medals by one place in four of the past five summers (the U-16s in 2008, 2010 and 2012; the U-18s in 2011) coming fifth in the other year.
Malone told The Hook that breaking that cycle and moving up to the podium would be an ideal outcome but, for now, his side can only focus on the controllable elements.
“We have specific goals but all we can do is take it one step at a time. Each one of our goals is a step in the direction we are trying to achieve. Where do we want to end up? You never know how a tournament is going to unfold.
“We would like to think we are heading into a semi-final and trying to get on to the next level. After my experience in underage tournaments in the last couple of years, I certainly believe it’s achievable. We’ve a hard working bunch of girls and are at home which is a huge advantage with a great management team.
“Hopefully, getting to the semi-final is a step in the process to maybe go even further and create a little bit of history.”
They have seven of the side that won the 2012 Celtic Cup back again for another year while four players move up from the U-16s from the Euros in Valencia last summer.
A number have Irish Hockey League experience now under their belt with striker Sarah Hawkshaw part of Railway Union’s extended treble winning squad while Loreto first teamer Jessica McGirr helped her side to an IHL runners-up place.
Due to the current budget situation, Malone’s side has played a couple less games than his previous four years involved. Nonetheless, the side has enjoyed a very productive pre-tournament run.
Darren Smith, the Irish senior women’s coach, has provided plenty of help while Jenny Burke and Mary Logue have come in to provide masterclasses, the former in the art of goalscoring.
The Dublin Airport Authority and PWC have come on board to help the side increase what they are capable of. The idea, in many respects, is to emulate the Irish senior women’s setup as closely as possible.
“We’ve been able to extend our programme with their support. To have eight players with experience of a tough schedule that was in place last year, we can replicate the environment so those players are better able to handle being together for nine days and pass on their experience to the other players.
“It means we can better manage the uncontrollable situations that might occur in a tournament setting. The support from Darren Smith – over my experience over four years – has been amazing and refreshing.
“He’s been very supportive and has put a lot of structures in place and helped us to fulfill what we are trying to achieve within the current financial situation.”
Speaking about the initial opposition, Malone describes Wales as something on an unknown entity though they have quite a few players with English clubs and schools.
The Netherlands are the stand-out side and are coached by Australian legend Alyson Annan. From the evidence of last week’s friendly, they will play with an aggressive style, typical of Annan’s combative days with the hockeyroos during a career that netted her 166 goals in 228 caps.
France have produced inconsistent performances in recent years and lost heavily to both Belgium and Germany earlier in 2013 but have a capacity to surprise.
** If you would like to write a match report from any of the games this week in Belfield, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details; we can pay for coverage of the Irish matches on Monday, Tuesday and during the classification matches.
** Later this week, The Hook will be posting a feature interview with Irish U-18 assistant coach Mary Goode and strength and conditioning coach Gerry Heaney to give a greater idea of what happens behind the scenes.
Ireland U-18 panel: Aisling Cronin (Loreto Wexford/Wexford), Ruth Maguire (Larne GS/Ulster Elks), Zara Thom (MCB/Belfast Harlequins), Ayeisha McFerran (Larne GS/Randalstown), Amber Gleeson (Alexandra College/Old Alex), Emma Kernohan (Ballymena Academy/Ballymoney), Claire Foley (St Gerard’s/Pembroke), Sara Twomey (Mount Anville/Hermes), Abby Oakes (Mount Mercy/Cork Harlequins), Sarah Hawkshaw (Mount Sackville/Railway Union), Jessica McGirr (Loreto Beaufort/Loreto), Millie O’Donnell (Alexandra College/Old Alex), Rachel Gray (Alexandra College/Old Alex), Hannah Grieve (Lurgan HS/Lurgan), Robyn Chambers (Rainey Endowed/Ballymoney), Emma Duncan (Kilkenny College/Old Alex), Elaine Carey (Colaiste Iognaid/Galway); Naomi Costley (Lurgan College/Lurgan)
EuroHockey Girls Youth Championships (all at Belfield, Dublin)
Monday, July 29 – Group A: Netherlands vs France, 3pm; Ireland vs Wales, 5pm; Group B: Germany vs Belgium, 11am; England vs Russia, 1pm
Tuesday, July 30 – Group A: France vs Wales, 3pm; Ireland vs Netherlands, 5pm
Wednesday, July 31 – Group B: Belgium vs Russia, 3pm; England vs Germany, 5pm
Thursday, August 1 – Group A: Netherlands vs Wales, 11am; Ireland vs France, 1pm; Group B: Germany vs Russia, 3pm; Belgium vs England, 5pm
Saturday, August 3/Sunday, August 4: Classification matches
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