** Additional reporting from Jack McCann
Trevor Dagg has been forced to make several changes to his Loreto panel for the Euro Hockey Club Champions Trophy in Loughborough University next weekend as the timing of the tournament has left him shy the services of Nikki Keegan, Lauren O’Leary, Bryony Biggam and Jessica McGirr.
The latter trio all have the Leaving Certificate to contend with while Keegan – one of their standout performers this term – is getting married the week later with the preparations for that ruling her out. With several weeks passing since their last competitive fixture in the IHL semi-finals, it means that the Beaufort club have approached the tournament as a new season.To that end, Dagg gave the players two weeks off before employing a “preseason plan” designed by strength and conditioning guru Stephen Barry and enacted by Gordon Elliott to help them his the ground running. It has included games against the Irish Under-21s as well as the Wesley Under-16 boys – a very fruitful outing – to embed the new additions to their squad.
It follows a season that they were expected to be in transition with Nikki Symmons moving to Switzerland while Sarah Evans, Lizzie Colvin and Cathy McKean were out with ACL injuries. But, in spite of those absences, they grew into the season and qualified for the semi-finals of the IHL, only falling to eventual champions UCD 3-1.
Loreto will be looking to the likes of Ali Meeke and Caitriona Tipping in midfield, the pace of Niamh Small, Hayley Mulcahy and Ciara Vincent up front while Hannah Matthews’ call up to the national team is indicative of her form. Aisling Campion’s availability is also a big boon.
With Louisa Healy in nets, they have a great spine to the team and will welcome in the likes of Sarah O’Loughlin and Carly Baker to replace the missing quartet.
Speaking about the tournament, Dagg said that his side are “aiming to finish as high as possible”. “Our pre-tournament ranking is fourth but, realistically, this will be a very tough tournament for us. We play the highest rank in our first game so if we get a result there, who knows?
“It could have been a difficult year but we have done incredibly well. The timing of the tournament means we have had to bring in players but we have a bloody good back four and goalkeeper so we will try and keep it as tight as possible until the latter stages of each game and see what we can do from there. It is a high standard but we will stick to a simple game plan.”
Their group has an eastern european feel to it, playing two teams from Russia and one from Belarus. Their first game is against HC Metrostroy from St Petersburg. They have been involved in European Hockey for the past couple of years, placing sixth and fourth at the 2011 and 2012 in this competition and won the Russian cup in 2013.
Next are Belarussian team HC Victorya Smolevichi while their last game is against Moscow’s CSP Izmaylovo, the 2013 Russian league winners. Group B contains hosts Leicester – who feature Irish international Emma Ross (nee Clarke) – Belgium’s Royal Antwerp, Ukranian champs MSC Sumchanka and SPV Complutense from Spain.
Railway’s video man Tristan Seaton-Stedham has provided video of a couple of the sides from last year and Dagg expects the sides to play in a similar style though it is something of a voyage of discovery.