Hermes-Monkstown coach Rudi Wortmann is looking to pull off the biggest shock in women’s EuroHockey Club Champions Cup history on Friday when his side face Den Bosch at their home ground.
The Dutch champions have won this competition 15 times since 2000 and have only lost to other Dutch clubs in the competition in that time, giving a measure of the challenge ahead for the south Dublin club.
The side’s preparations have been curtailed a little by their Irish quintet being with the Irish national team in the US for nine days.
While Anna O’Flanagan, Chloe Watkins, Nikki Evans, Sinead Loughran and Ellen Curran were getting top level game time under their belt, it did mean that his side were training with 10 or 11 players during that time.
“We rowed with the oars that we had been given – which is a Dutch expression – as well as we could!” Wortmann said ahead of the tournament to Dublin City FM’s Declan Hughes.
They meet a Den Bosch side that features Olympic gold medalists Maartje Paumen – after whom the grandstand is named –Lidewij Welten and Margot van Geffen. Indeed, for Paumen, it is her last weekend of playing for the club after an incredible career as she moves to Antwerp in Belgium next term.
“Obviously we are playing the best team at the moment in Europe. They just won the Dutch league in the playoffs over Amsterdam. They are a very good team, very experienced, fit, fast and have incredible technique.
“But I am not going to rule ourselves out either. We are not going in to make up numbers. We know what we can do and the first match will not set the tone for the rest of the tournament for us.”
Cause a shock and Hermes-Monkstown will become the first Irish team to reach the top four in the top tier of Europe since Pegasus in 1982. Hermes did come third in the old format of the Cup Winners Cup in 2000 in Cologne so do have some top pedigree.
Lose against Den Bosch and they will go into the fifth to eight place playoffs with the target to finish as high as possible and aim to retain Ireland’s place in the top level.
“We will have to hustle a lot that first match against Den Bosch. After that, we have a lot of quality in our side so no one can rule us out.
“The element of surprise is with us. I saw the television coverage of Den Bosch against Amsterdam. We do know what they are like and their strengths.
“I am pretty sure Den Bosch will rely on their own strengths; I don’t think they are conceited enough to not think of us but I doubt they have any video or know very much about us other than we have five internationals.”
In O’Flanagan. Wortmann can draw on one of the best strikers in Irish history. She scored 41 times in the regular season to top the charts for a third successive season; combined with international goals, she has well over 50 competitive goals in the last 12 months.
She is among a cohort of the side who played with UCD in the Club Champions Cup in 2015 in Bilthoven along with Evans, defender Sarah Greene and Watkins. Indeed, Watkins will be playing in the competition for a third time having also lined out for Club de Campo for a season.
“Most of our side has played in Europe but mainly in the Club Champions Trophy. This is like the step up from the Champions League rather than the Europa League so it will be different.
“We have top goalscorers in our team, notably Anna O’Flanagan who has been brilliant for us. Nikki Evans has come into her stride with some very good performances in the last few weeks. Sinead Loughran is someone we can really rely on.
“We have another four Irish Under-21s in the team who don’t have the big experience of these tournaments but that might not be too bad for them if they don’t really know what the tournament is about. It might mean they are unfazed when more experienced players are a bit more nervous.
“For us, it’s a very exciting time. We just want to finish as high as we can and will do everything in our power to do that.”
In the second tier, Pegasus are en route to Munich where they play in the EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy. They are grouped with Spain’s Club de Campo, Belarus’s Ritm Grodno and Scotland’s Grove Menzieshill.
They travel without first choice goalkeeper Sammy-Jo Greer who has a broken foot. Jessica Perry – who has been on the bench in previous Euro campaigns – comes in between the posts while Jenny Gibson has come out of retirement as back-up.
Speaking about the tournament to John Flack, captain Alex Speers said: “We are really looking forward to the Euros this weekend.
“Prep has been good with a number of matches against the Irish 18s, Irish 21s and Mossley Academy boys. Four matches in four days will be tough but we believe top two in the pool is achievable.
“It is obviously a blow to lose Sammy-Jo but Jessica has trained all year with us and we have every confidence in her.”
Fixture schedule (all times CET)
EuroHockey Club Champions Cup, quarter-final
Friday: Hermes-Monkstown v Den Bosch, 8pm
Saturday/Sunday/Monday: crossover matches
EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy, Pool B
Friday: Pegasus v Club de Campo, 2.30pm
Saturday: Pegasus v Grove Menzieshill, 10am
Sunday: Pegasus v Rotm Grodno, 10am
Monday: crossover matches