A day after the Irish senior teams finished their hectic summer, the Under-21 men and women begin their European campaigns with avoiding relegation the crucial target is either side is to make the Junior World Cup in three years time.
In order to be in that frame, Ireland must remain in the top tier and so this week in Valencia – starting at 9am for the men on Monday and 11.15am for the women against England – is vitally important.
The women have managed to organise an extensive programme of 17 matches this summer, raising €70,000 themselves to put together the series, buying their own balls, bibs and cones and so on.
It’s something which coach Dave Passmore says “makes you appreciate what you have when you have to fund it yourself” adding It’s not ideal but it’s a fact of life. We said we won’t winge about it; we’ll just get on with it.”
Speaking about his selection, he added: “I don’t know if I remember a tougher final selection. Normally you get to 14 or 15 and then numbers work themselves out based on positions and corners but this group wasn’t like that.
“There is a core group at the same standard and the fitness levels have really come on. I would hope we would be in the top two or three fitness wise which should stand us in good stead.
“It’s such a key part of the game, especially in the sun. We have 11 or 12 who have gone over 18 in a yo-yo which is where we want them for senior level. It’s an athletic group and also a very young group.”
The vast majority of the side was part of the Irish Under-18s that played in Cork last year, just about staying up and keeping top tier status.
“They have really improved and understand the margins between winning and losing, what you have to put in to play at that level. Unquestionably, some of them will come into the seniors no matter what their age. The biggest part of my role is about finding and developing the most talented players. I will be judged more on them than on how we get on in the tournament.
Nonetheless, avoiding relegation is the primary target.
“With a World Cup every four years, you have to be in the European Cup in the year prior to it so avoiding relegation is the most important thing by far and away. When you are in the B division, getting good fixtures is much harder. Then, when you get to world level, that’s where the real learning takes place and they start to understand the game from a different perspective.
“But they are an ambitious group and we have really enjoyed it which helps when you are doing it on a voluntary basis and everyone puts that bit more in.”
They follow the English tie with a key game against France in their second game, a side of whom 14 formed part of their seniors for the European B division last month and train full time at CREPS.
The group concludes against Germany on Thursday in the seven team tournament with one side relegated.
“I don’t think there is a team in Valencia that we can’t beat on a good day. We are very difficult to play against.”
As for the men, their programme has mainly been in tandem with the senior team with coach Jonny Caren the regular assistant to Craig Fulton. They have seen a quartet of players move up to senior level which limits their options but Fulton said that the tandem training approach was the right way to run the programme.
“We had to keep everyone ticking over in both squads so they weren’t out of the frame coming into these major tournaments. We are in a different system [to the women] but I like it. I like them training with us, getting direct games against us. There’s talent there so we have to see what we can with it.”
The men start off against Germany before playing Austria and Belgium.
Women’s Under-21 squad: Emma Buckley (GK, Cork Harlequins), Michelle Carey (Railway Union), Edel Nyland (Longwood University, USA), Ellen Curran (Hermes-Monkstown), Sorcha Clarke (UCD), Taite Doherty (Pegasus), Erin Getty (Vice Captain, Randalstown), Tori Hastings (Queens University), Suzie Kelly (Hermes-Monkstown), Ruth Maguire (Co-Capt, Pegasus), Hannah McLoughlin (Loreto), Jessica McMaster (Queens University), Elizabeth Murphy (GK, Hermes-Monkstown), Alex Ogilby (Clifton), Sarah Patton (UCD), Abbie Russell (UCD), Sarah Torrans (Loreto), Sara Twomey (Co-Capt, UCD)
EuroHockey Junior Championships (August 28 – September 3, Valencia, all times Irish)
Monday, August 28: Ireland v England, 10.15am
Tuesday, August 29: Ireland v France, 2.30pm
Thursday, August 31: Ireland v Germany, 8am
September 2-3: Classification matches
Men’s Under-21 squad: Jamie Carr (Three Rock Rovers), Geoff Cole (Monkstown), Matthew Crookshanks (Annadale), Julian Dale (Cork C of I), Conor Empey (Three Rock Rovers), Ryan Getty (Lisnagarvey), Sam Grace (UCC), Luke Madeley (Three Rock Rovers), Kyle Marshall (Banbridge), David Mawhinney (YMCA), Peter McKibbin (Lisnagarvey), Fred Morris (Almere), John Mullins (Clontarf), Daniel Nelson (Lisnagarvey), Keith O’Hare (Pembroke), Mark Samuel (Three Rock Rovers), Simon Wolfe (Cork C of I), one more TBC
Monday, August 28: Ireland v Germany, 8am
Wednesday, August 30: Ireland v Austria, 8am
Thursday, August 31: Ireland v Belgium, 10.15am
September 2-3: Classification matches