Gareth Grundie is anticipating a tough battle from Malaysia despite Ireland holding a 100% record over the Asian sides in competitive fixtures.
Traditionally a reasonably timid opponent, Malaysia have struggled with Ireland’s greater physicality, most recently falling 3-0 on home turf at World League Round 2 in January 2017.
From the video available, though, Grundie reckons they are likely to play a more forward-thinking style at this event.“They look like they are more aggressive with their press so we will have to move the ball quickly,” Grundie said ahead of their opening FIH Series Finals tie at Banbridge at 3pm (Saturday, June 8).
“They are probably playing more with the ball than the past but it is hard to tell because a lot of the footage we have is from friendlies so we don’t know exactly what they are working on.”
Speaking about the squad selected, he is primarily picking from the World Cup side with 15 returnees. Grace O’Flanagan’s decision to step back from the panel has opened the door for Emma Buckley to come in while Nikki Evans and Yvonne O’Byrne miss out this time with Sarah Hawkshaw and Bethany Barr set for ranking tournament debuts.
“We said from the start we would pick based on form,” he said of the selection. “This time, the others were ahead but it was not that they were perfoming badly. Again, that can change come the Europeans.
“It is important that everyone does see that it is not once you are in, you are in and everyone is fighting for that spot.
“It was a really difficult decision, moreso from a personal point of view. Every team in the world will have to refresh their squads with two or three new faces coming in. You do need it and it does bring out competition for places. I am quite sure [Nikki and Yvonne] will be back in at some stage with a bit of hunger to push the group.”
As for the newcomers, he outlined what they bring to the able and how the expanded Irish Under-21 and 23 programme has reaped dividends.
“Sarah is a very clever hockey player and links very well with the other forwards, bringing others into the play. She does a lot of work you don’t necessarily see off the ball and creates that space. Physically, she is an athlete.
“Beth is very tidy on the ball, solid basics, good one-v-one defence. She’s comfortable on the ball under pressure and physically, she well get up and down the pitch for us.
“The Under-21 and 23 has been a really big factor for them. Dave Passmore and Graham Shaw would have spoken a lot and the aim was to teach them the same stuff into the age groups so there was not so much of a jump for them, same vocabulary, similar tactics and style of play.”
Ireland will next play the Czech Republic on Sunday before facing Singapore on Tuesday with top spot going straight through to the semi-finals while second and third in the group contest a quarter-final on Thursday.