Irish Under-18s disrupt the fancied sides at Six Nations

The Irish Under-18 and 16 girls produced some fine performances in Terrassa, Spain, with the former making serious waves at their respective Six Nations tournaments against the top teams in Europe.

On arrival in Barcelona, the girls wasted no time in acclimatizing to the local 30 degree heat. Following two essential training sessions, the Irish Under-18s were ready to disrupt against England on the Monday, the opening day of the tournament.

An early 9am push back seemed daunting initially but captain Sarah Torrans led the Irish team to their first ever victory against a strong English side – a perfect start to the girls’ campaign.

The team was thrilled with their win and first two goals of the European tournament, but knew there was a lot more work ahead of them.

Tuesday saw Ireland play Belgium and with Wednesday being a well-earned rest day, the girls put their shoulders to the pump, working and concentrating right through to the end, overcoming a strong Belgium side.

Siofra O’Brien once again put her name on the scoresheet during an intense, triumphant 3-2 win over Belgium. It was clear that the girls were equal to the European standard as one of the fittest teams at the tournament.

Thursday brought the match vs Spain at 9pm. As expected, the Spanish came out stronger and faster than the girls had ever experienced and took a strong lead in the first half.

However, the Irish weren’t to be deterred. Once again Ireland proved their defiant and strong work ethic when they put in their strongest performance yet in the second half finishing with a 4-2 loss.

Although the girls were disappointed in this result, the loss versus Spain redoubled their determination to perform the next day against Germany. This was the fourth game for all teams but no tiredness was evident from a strong Irish side.

The Irish took the lead in the fourth quarter from a PC and held their lead despite a concerted and sustained attack from a skilled German side. With three minutes on the clock, the German’s persistence paid off with a well-deserved goal.

The girls were disappointed knowing that they had been so cruelly close to beating the Germans and pulling off a third win in the tournament. But the side remained positive and took great encouragement from their performance to date, along with the encouragement and support from a strong Irish supporters group in Terrassa.

Sunday dawned and with it the final game of the tournament against the Netherlands. Ireland knew that this would be their toughest game of the tournament, but were ready to show the Dutch some Irish resilience.

Despite a final score of 7-1, this did not reflect effort and persistence of the Irish girls to pin the Dutch back, with Sarah Torrans’ goal one to remember.

The Irish U-18 girls finished joint third in the tournament, unfortunately missing out on medalling on goal difference. It was a fantastic performance from a special group of girls with every player committing and improving through the tournament.

The Head Coach, Steven Arbuthnot, and Assistant Coach, Keith Crawford, commented that they had never been more proud of a team before.

Head coach Steven Arbuthnot was especially pleased with how the girls dominated the later stages of matches: “We were never out of games due to our excellent conditioning and scored a lot of our winning goals in the last two quarters.

“Even when we lost 4-2 to Spain, we were 3-0 down at half time and got it back to 4-2. I am confident that with an extra quarter we would have tied the game as we had run the Spanish very hard. These were good lessons for the girls, as we cannot afford to be 3 goals back from such talented opposition.

“The fact that we only lost out on a bronze medal amongst the top teams in Europe on goal difference is an excellent achievement for an U-18 programme with no funding.

“I want to pay credit to the backroom staff working hard to get the girls ready to play in tournament hockey, and also the girls for pushing themselves to see that we can compete and win against the best.

“Standards have been raised by this group for Irish underage hockey, and these players have a responsibility to make sure this wasn’t a one-off.”

Sarah Torrans celebrates her goal against the Netherlands. Pic: Mar Molina

At Under-16 level, Ali McNeill’s side opened up with a 0-0 draw with England before having a tough day against Belgium who were outstanding for the whole tournament.

The side regrouped with excellent performances against Germany and Spain before pushing the Dutch in their last game. The score was 1-0 at half-time before they ran up some fantastic goals in the fourth quarter.

To the fore were both Ellie McLoughlin and Laura Chestnut who excelled in goal with the former winning goalkeeper of the tournament. In defence, Sophia Cole and co-captains Lisa Mulcahy and Amy Elliott also shone while Amy Elliott and Nadia Benallal powered the team from midfield.

Reflecting on the tournament, Sarah Scott from the side’s management team said: “Overall, it was a huge learning curve for the girls and a fantastic opportunity to play against quality opposition. The fundraising from the car raffle meant that parents didn’t have to pay for the girls to represent their country and something we hope to continue for the future.”

** Pictures from the tournament can be found at the following page:

Six Nations
Ireland 2 (S O’Brien, G McLoughlin) England 1
Ireland 3 (S O’Brien 2, S McDowell) Belgium 2
Ireland 2 (M Carey, Y Pratt) Spain 4
Ireland 2 (S O’Brien, G McLoughlin) Germany 2
Ireland 1 (S Torrans) Netherlands 7

Ireland 0 England 0
Ireland 0 Belgium 8
Ireland 1 (KJ Marshall) Spain 3
Ireland 0 Germany 3
Ireland 0 Netherlands 7

Partners of The Hook