Anna O’Flanagan says Gareth Grundie’s calm, composed demeanour will complement the Green Army’s exuberant outlook for the FIH Series Finals in Banbridge next week.
Sean Dancer has been installed as the new coach for the women’s national team but only arrived in Ireland a couple of weeks ago to take on the role vacated by Graham Shaw.The Australian will formally take over after the event with Grundie taking on the role for this tournament, offering a measure of continuity from the World Cup coaching team.
And the striker says it will offer as smooth a transition as possible ahead of a big year which features the European Championships in August and a direct Olympic qualifier in October, all going well in Banbridge.
“He ‘s an exceptional coach, reads the game really well, does a lot of homework and is very organised and plans everything exceptionally,” O’Flanagan said of Grundie.
He previously coached with Ards for many years, guiding their path to the upper echelons of the game in Ulster as well as masterminding a string of National Indoor Trophy successes.
He was brought on board with the Irish Under-21s by Dave Passmore and, in 2018, Shaw added Grundie to the coaching ticket ahead of the World Cup.
“He’s quiet and calm and you know exactly what he wants from you,” O’Flanagan continued. “He’s really brought that steadiness to the team and that ability to be calm and composed.
“I think he really complements us because we do have quite an outgoing group of girls. Sometimes we need to be brought back down to earth! It’s perfect.
“When Gareth speaks we all listen and really respect him as a coach. He allows us to have our fun when we need. He would have taken a lot of our sessions with Graham as head coach and also done a lot of analysis and presented to us in meetings so for us it’s not a massive change in what was happening behind the scenes anyway. That’s really positive and it’s great to have that continuity with someone we regard so highly.”
For O’Flanagan, she has just completed a productive second season in the Netherlands, this time with Pinoke who achieved the highes finish for a promoted side to the Hoofdklasse – eighth – in ten years, scoring her share of goals along the way.
There, she has been combining hockey with two to three days a week work with Deloitte. She is not exactly sure where next season will take her, especially in light of the Park Developments announcement, but she did express her gratitude to Pinoke for the opportunity and would relish the chance of lining out again for the Amstelveen-based club.
“It is very difficult to make a decision about the future when I hadn’t met the head coach – the next few weeks is just about focusing on this tournament and after that sitting down with Sean and see what he wants from me.
“But, yeah, Pinoke is my club in Holland and I am extremely grateful for everything they have given me and if I play in Holland, that is where I want to play.”
Indeed, the quality of hockey over in the Netherlands did not allow her much time to rest on the laurels of the World Cup “craziness”.
“It was a bit tough at first to go back over so soon, with so much excitement here still but as I look back I’m very grateful for it because it got me back into the swing of things very quickly. When you go back to Holland and you’ve come second in a World Cup, they don’t really care!”
While the Dutch may not care, the newly-aware Irish public will certainly be looking forward to the Series Finals with an expectation. After many years of being the outsiders, the underdrogs looking to cause a shock, Ireland go into this competition as the top-ranked side in a group that they should top.Managing that change of mindset will be the challenge for O’Flanagan and her cohorts.
“We’re in a different situation now, maybe there’s a bit more of a target on our backs than previously and probably more pressure as well. That’s something we need to deal with.
“It’s definitely the first time we’ve had to deal with that expectation but it’s one of those things we need to stay focussed on our job; on how we can impose ourselves on the game and on tournaments.
We need to just focus on our own performance, how we start matches, how we bring tempo to games, on how we can bring our style of hockey that we want to play.
“Focusing on those things should remove the extra pressure that we don’t need to think about. If we can’t focus on ourselves and get caught up in everything else, we won’t do those things we need to do to win, so that’s what our goal is.”