Graham Shaw says he will only be making “tweaks” to the game plan implemented by Darren Smith in his first tournament as Irish senior women’s coach which gets underway on Saturday in Prague.
Speaking to Declan Hughes last Saturday prior to the side flying out to the EuroHockey Championships II, Shaw said that “now is not the time to be implementing changes”.
“If we start to try and change things so close after playing another tournament, it’s probably not the right thing to do,” he said. “I won’t change anything too dramatically from Darren’s tenure.
“He did a fantastic job; I do see a few things slightly differently but nothing drastic. It will be more tweaks or a shift in a position or two and that’s about it. We are tyring to continue on the path Darren put us on.
“We are beating top ten teams in the world, competing in world level competitions. We need to make sure we are now competing in A level competition and ready to go for the World Cup qualifiers in two years time.”
To that end, this tournament is far from an ideal one. Ireland were relegated two years ago in Boom in low-key fashion, a drenched early morning slug-fest with Scotland their final undoing.
It marked the end of a bad year for the national side, one from which they emerged much stronger, coming with touching distance of an Olympic berth at last month’s World League Round 3 in Valencia.
The quarter-final shoot-out loss to China was a painful moment, one from which Ireland never really recovered. Getting over that heartbreak will be a big mental task for the panel, especially the 11 players who are retained for the Euros.
“When you chase a dream like that and you fall at the last hurdle, it can be difficult. That’s elite sport. Not everyone plays to this level, only a certain type of character make it to play for this country. The girls have shown real character in making themselves available for this tournament, training with the right attitude.
“I don’t see any problems from that point of view. Of course there will be disappointment for a while but we’re elite athletes, playing for our country and I am sure when the girls pull on that green jersey, it will be all systems go.”
Since then, Emma Smyth and Kate Dillon have retired while Nikki Evans is still recovering from a broken jaw sustained against South Africa. Anna O’Flanagan, Aine Connery, Emma Gray and Lizzie Colvin are also unavailable.
As a result, Emily Beatty, Deirdre Duke, Naomi Carroll, Stella Davis and Chloe Brown are back in the fold while Kerri McDonald and Kate Lloyd are the newest faces.
“A lot of them have been involved with the squad for a while so I can sense a bit of excitement. Bringing in fresh faces and a bit of extra energy has been really beneficial. The calibre of players we have brought in shows the strength in depth that we have in Ireland. I am looking forward to seeing how they go and maybe start pushing for a more cemented place in the squad.
“Nearly the whole forward line has changed but we have some young girls coming in, between 20 and 23 years of age, with a lot of time ahead of them. It’s up to them to prove how much they want it and how hard they are going to work for it every time they pull on the jersey and Prague is no better time to start that.”
Having mixed it with much higher ranked sides in recent times, Ireland go into this second tier competition as “red-hot favourites” to claim one of the two promotion spots.
“We don’t see ourselves as a tier-two side. The main aim is to get ourselves into the top two and, once we put ourselves into position, we want to go on and win the competition.
“We need to be playing higher ranked teams on a regular basis rather than ones way below us. We aim to be in the top ten in the world and so we want to play those above us.”
They play in a group with Ukraine and France, both of whom have been beaten heavily in the past 12 months, as well as the Czech Republic who were beaten well in the 2013 World League Round 2. The focus is very much on what Shaw’s side can do.
“Ukraine and France we know quite well and if we give them time on the ball and don’t concentrate on the basic part of the game, they can punish you. But if we play to our own strengths, we will do well.”
Women’s EuroHockey Championships II, Prague (July 18th-25th, Irish time)
Saturday, July 18th: Ireland v France, 12.30pm; Ukraine v Czech Republic, 2.45pm
Sunday, July 19th: Ukraine v Ireland, 7.15pm; France v Czech Republic, 5pm
Tuesday, July 21st: Ireland v Czech Republic, 4.45pm; France v Ukraine, 2.30pm
Thursday, July 23rd & Saturday, July 25th: Classification matches
Ireland EuroHockey women’s squad for Champions Trophy: A McFerran (Pegasus/University of Louisville); S Davis (Pembroke), A Meeke (Loreto), K McDonald (Ards), H Matthews (Loreto), C Sargent (Cork Harlequins), S McCay (Ulster Elks), M Frazer (Ulster Elks), and O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins), G Pinder (UCD), N Daly (Loreto), C Watkins (UCD), E Beatty (UCD), N Carroll (Catholic Institute), C Brown (Ards), D Duke (UCD), K Lloyd (Railway Union), K Mullan (UCD)