Cecelia Joyce is beginning to get used to taking on the world’s best. Just 12 days since the T20 cricket World Cup concluded in Bangladesh, she is one of three players – along with twin sister Isobel and Kate McKenna – back on a plane, this time to the Netherlands with Railway Union.
On both occasions, she is up against the top performer’s in the respective sports. In cricket, it was the first time Ireland had reached a women’s T20 finals, taking on eventual world champions Australia.
Next on the agenda is a Friday date with Den Bosch (5pm, CET), the Dutch champions who won their 15th national title last Sunday and have won the top European club competition 13 of the last 14 years.
That is the toughest European club fixture an Irish club has ever encountered as Railway were promoted qualified last spring to the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup in its current format for the first time. The Dutch club feature an array of Olympic gold medalists including two time world player of the year Maartje Paumen.
As a full-time lawyer competing in two codes against a sea of fully paid players, it would be easy for Joyce to view this date with trepidation. But she comes from a family who strive for the best – her older brothers Ed and Dominick also play cricket for Ireland – and she says there is no reason to be fearful.
“For myself and Isobel, we have just played some of the best cricket teams in the world,” she told The Hook. “Our coach Nasir [Munir] is scared of nobody and thinks his coaching is up there with the best in the world. Our team philosophy – and this comes from former coach Mick McKinnon too – is we want to play the best and see where we stand.
“That’s our attitude; no matter what the score is, we want to play the best in the world and see how we get on. There’s no point being afraid. We’re not afraid of failing. It is an honour to be there but we are playing to win.”
It is an attitude that has seen her teams break new boundaries. For Railway, she joined a club in mid-table in the Leinster league and has played a part in their development to be Irish Hockey League champions three times in the past five years.
Balancing elite sport with her work life as a lawyer who can work up to 70 hours a week is an onerous task. At times, she has contemplated stepping back but, as a utility player that has been used in each position bar “goalkeeper and centre-back”, Munir was keen to keep her involved in his panel of 18 for the trip to the Netherlands.
Joyce has been unable to make regular training since October but could prove invaluable in a Railway side that has endured a number of defensive changes in the past season. Given the short hiatus between the cricket and hockey tournaments, though, she doesn’t see it as too much of a problem adapting between the sports.
“Because we can bring 18 to Europe and a couple of players are not available, Railway said ‘if you still want to come, we would be glad to have you’. Having said that, it is not that big a crossover. Going from cricket to hockey is much easier than the other way around because your hand-eye co-ordination is better while your hand and fore-arm strength is also stronger.
“For tactics and game awareness, because I have been playing so long with the same team, it is easier than when I first came in six years ago.”
And she is hoping to play a role in potentially her club’s toughest fixture and there is no thought of leaving anything behind against Den Bosch or using a squad rotation for, perhaps, saving players for any later classification games.
“I don’t think we have too many hockey geeks among us so we wouldn’t be going to the EHL [on holiday] anyway. In a way, that can be better than people who are in awe of the situation. They are not going around, thinking about it all day, everyday. At the same time, it is a massive occasion.
“In previous European trips, we have gone out to get the best result on any given day. That’s what we want to do, play them at their best and beat them. Whether that’s likely or not against Den Bosch, it doesn’t really matter. We want to beat the best in the world.”
Railway will be captained by Emma Smyth while all bar Ruth Clifford in the panel have prior experience in Europe. The midfielder comes into the panel in place of the unavailable Julia O’Halloran. Mount Sackville schoolgirl Sarah Hawkshaw has played a central role in midfield this season, and along with the evergreen Sinead Dooley and Smyth will hope to make an impact in midfield.
The versatile international Kate Dillon has been one of the main sources of goals this season and will be hoping she can score in Den Bosch, along with strikers Alex Speers, Jean McDonnell, Kate Lloyd and the speedy Zara Delany.
Emer Lucey is likely to be kept busy marshalling the defence against the in form Lidewij Welten. Coached Munir has previous experience in European club competition with Glenanne men.
The format of the tournament is such that Railway will play three games. The winner of their first game will play the winner of the match between the German side Berliner and the Spanish side Real Sociedad de Futbal SAD and the loser will play the loser of this match.
The play off matches will take place on Easter Monday. The other teams in the competition are the Dutch side Amsterdam who play the Azerbaijan champions Atasport, and Reading from England who play Uhlenhorster from Germany.
Railway have a large contingent of supporters going to the competition, including the Railway U14 team coached by Una McCarthy. The U-14s, including starlet Michelle Carey, will play junior Dutch teams as well as supporting the players who have been coaching them all season.
Friday 18th April: 9.30 M1 Amsterdam v Atasport 12.00 M2 Reading v Uhlenhorster 14.30 M3 Berliner v Real Sociedad de Futbal SAD 17.00 M4 Railway Union v HC ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Saturday 19th April: 14.30 M5 LM1 v LM2 17.00 M6 LM3 v LM4
Sunday 20th April: 14.30 M7 WM1 v WM2 17.00 M8 WM3 v WM4
Monday 21st April: 9.30 7/8 LM5 v LM6 12.00 5/6 WM5 v WM6 14.30 3/4 LM7 v LM8 17.00 Final WM7 v WM8
Railway Team: Grace O’Flangan (GK), Isobel Joyce, Kate Dillon, Kate Lloyd, Zara Delany, Holly Jenkinson, Kate McKenna, Jean McDonnell, Cecelia Joyce, Ruth Clifford, Emma Smyth (C), Emer Lucey, Rachel Barnett (GK), Eimear Dolan, Alex Speers, Sarah Hawkshaw, Sinead Dooley, Orla Fox. Coach: Nasir Munir. Manager: Ruth Anne Kilty. Physio: Fiona Connolly. Assistant Coach: Hannah de Burgh Whyte.