“There is still a buzz around the squad and the hockey community back home,” Shane O’Donoghue says of Ireland’s mood ahead of the European championships campaign.
It comes off the back of a fine World League semi-final campaign, one which saw the green machine beat higher-ranked Pakistan and Malaysia to move within reach of a potential first ever Olympic qualification since 1908.
O’Donoghue – who played last season with Dragons in Belgium – is one of the key cogs in the engine room, a goal-scoring midfielder with a powerful corner flick on top.
He showed plenty of that potential two years ago as a 20-year-old in Boom in a topsy-turvy tournament for the Irish with some serious high points but almost ended in disaster.
A last-ditch fightback against the Czech Republic preserved their status in the top tier for a third successive continental championship.
“Yeah, the last Europeans was a bit of a roller coaster. We faced the Dutch and narrowly lost out 2-1 and then we came back from 2-0 down against England in which we drew 2-2 O’Donoghue scored twice which resulted in us narrowly missing our chance to play in the semi finals which would have been our first time.
“We played some good hockey and in some ways exceeded our expectations at the time but we grinded out a big game against the Czech Republic.”
This year, Ireland start with a key game against France on Saturday morning to start their campaign before facing the big dogs – Germany on Sunday and Belgium on Tuesday.
To prepare for the competition, Ireland initially took time out after a big preparation for the World League, dating back to round two which took place in March.
Since returning to action, Ireland have had an intensive four-week block to build for London. It included a couple of high octane against the Netherlands, running them close in the second game, 2-3.
“To play games against the likes of the Dutch for us as a squad and where we want to go is fantastic. The Dutch are a very strong outfit but it was our first outing together with some new faces in the squad and we improved a lot from game one to game 2.
“For us, it was to get back to the level in which we finished at World League 3 and to focus purely on us and make improvements form both games.
“It was important that after world league we took some time away from hockey as, since World league 2 in March, we have had various international games and training camps both at home and abroad.
“We have had some high intensity training camps the past couple of weeks and obviously the games against Holland last weeks so preparation has been short but very positive.”
** Article originally written by The Hook for the Euro Hockey League website
Saturday, August 22, 8:30am: Ireland vs France
Sunday, August 23, 8:30pm: Ireland vs Germany
Tuesday, August 25, 1:15pm: Ireland vs Belgium
Thursday, August 27: Classification matches
Saturday, August 29: Classification/finals