Hermes-Monkstown coach Gareth Watkins says the confidence gleaned from the closing six weeks of the Irish season will give his side a big boost going into the EuroHockey Club Trophy this weekend on home turf.
They come into the competition following a rough EY Hockey League season, ending in relegation to the Leinster league. It came in the wake of their key attacking trio of Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan and Chloe Watkins taking up contracts in Europe for the season, sheering them of over 60 goals from the previous campaign.
Important heads like Sarah Greene (Australia), Eimear Horan (retired) and Ellen Curran (UCD) also moved on while Sinead Loughran had a season punctuated by injury.
Combined with Suzie Kelly’s midseason move down under, it meant a huge overhaul of the panel and they lost their first seven ties in succession as a wealth of newcomers took time to adjust to the higher level.
Performances have picked up significantly to the back end of the season with a big win over Trinity, a draw with Railway and holding Pegasus, Cork Harlequins and UCD (twice) scoreless for long periods offers encouragement for the Euro campaign.
The arrival of Natalie Esteves from South Africa has given them a boost while goalkeeper Lizzie Murphy has been in sparkling form. Town will be close to full strength Ava Beatty’s foot injury a concern but Courtney Watkins has rejoined the panel following exams.
“Competing in the Euros after the season we have had is less then ideal but the girls have been excellent the last three weeks and embraced the extra sessions and games (the good weather helps!),” coach Watkins told The Hook. “Our level no doubt increased in the last six weeks of the league season so we have to take that into this weekend and ensure we do ourselves justice.
“That has certainly left us more confident, and having a home tournament in front of our club supporters has added another level of excitement and determination to perform.”
They start off their campaign at 5.45pm at the Merrion Fleet Arena against Russia’s Krylatskoye before facing French champions Lille and Spain’s Junior FC on Sunday in the four-team group.
Where they finish in the group will determine who they play in Monday’s crossover. There is no direct promotion via the tournament but a strong showing – in conjunction with UCD’s results – could help Ireland retain its place in the upper levels of European competition for 2019.
It is a tough format with Watkins saying four games in four days is unlike anything his side will have experienced before. They do have nine players involved who were part of the European Cup adventure in 2017 but it is still something of an unknown challenge.
“The B Division, in particular, is always a bit of an unknown quantity with many clubs potentially coming with different squads to those that qualified them.
“There isn’t a huge amount of video out there on our opponents, essentially our focus is very much on the first game against the Russian side. From there, we will have a look at the French and Spanish side in our group, Lille won their league well and have qualified for their playoff finals and Junior have gone well in their league too so they will be tough opponents.”
One key player is Christine Quinlan who has confirmed she will retire after the tournament following a glittering career. She has been one of the driving forces with Hermes and the subsequent merger with Monkstown over the past decade.
“Anyone who has watched our side this year, or indeed the team at any stage of the last 10 or more years will know Chris’ importance to the side. She is a quality defender, a leader and a big personality within the team and the club as a whole, reflected in the fact she has won virtually everything there is to win within the game!
“Chris’ commitment to the team is matched only by her commitment off the pitch to the club, where she is a constant source of energy, ideas, and support.”
As for the club itself, running events like this is a huge undertaking, something that Watkins could not be prouder of as Monkstown host an elite European tournament for the first time.
“We are extremely proud that the club are hosting a European tournament and we have to pay a huge tribute to the organising committee in particular.
“There is a massive amount that goes on behind the scenes in advance of a Euros and we have been very fortunate to have a group of people from right across the club who have come together and worked tirelessly, along with Rathdown School and our sponsors, to ensure we put on a great show this weekend.
“We have had a lot of firsts in the club over the last decade and hosting a Eurohockey weekend at Rathdown is another big one for us.”
In Surbiton on Thursday, UCD fell to chastening 8-0 defeat to Amsterdam in the European Cup quarter-final, falling behind in under 15 seconds to a Kelly Jonker goal.
Charlotte Vega weighed in with a hat trick while there were also two goals for Maria Verschoor and one from Julia Muller’s corner rebound.
Women’s EuroHockey Club Cup (all at Surbiton)
Quarter-final (Thursday): UCD 0 AH&BC Amsterdam 8 (C Vega 3, M Verschoor 2, K Jonker 2, J Muller)
5th-8th playoffs (Friday): UCD v Mannheimer HC, 4.45pm
Women’s EuroHockey Club Trophy (all at the Merrion Fleet Arena
Friday: Monkstown vs Krylatskoye (Russia), 5.45pm
Saturday: Monkstown vs Lille (France), 2.30pm
Sunday: Monkstown vs Junior FC (Spain), 2.30pm
Monday: classification matches