Junior Green Army go out of the fire-pit into the Valencia heat for Euro Under-21s

Dave Passmore resisted saying “it is what it is” as he will have to cope without being able to select Sarah Torrans from around the fire pit this week in Valencia.

The star striker broke a bone in her hand in Ireland’s warm-up tie against England on Thursday, a 2-0 win courtesy goals from Niamh Carey and Caoimhe Perdue.

Sarah Torrans will miss the tournament with a handy injury. Pic: Adrian Boehm

It means that while she will remain in the Junior Green Army’s Love Island-style villa, her place in action in the European Under-21 championship side will be taken by rising Under-18 from Banbridge, Ellen Reid, swapping her travel plans for Eindhoven to the Spanish coast.

“It is a blow,” Passmore said. “[Torrans] was really starting to play well and brings a lot of assets at corner attack and defensive time. We played a four nations without her but then we had Abbie [Russell]. Missing them both is a big blow.”

They start their campaign on Saturday evening at 4.45pm (Irish time – click here for live stream) against Russia in an expanded five-team pool. That is because of 2017’s incomplete tournament when an infectious virus went through the Spanish team, leaving them unable to fulfil their final game against Ireland.

It means no sides were relegated with Russia and Belarus both moving up, making it a nine-team competition. Ireland have the tougher group with the Netherlands next on Monday before games against Spain and France.

With Torrans and Russell unavailable list, Amy Elliott will also not be involved with a tight hamstring unlikely to hold up for the tournament so soon after completing her Leaving Cert.

On the plus side, Caitlin Sherin – another Leaving Cert 2019 graduate – is on the comeback trail after a stunning season for Loreto while Erin Getty looks set to get over her sprained ankle – “a big boost”. And Passmore says he is happy that the side’s extensive programme, including a Four Nations tournament and two-game series against Belgium at home, and a trip to Alicante recently, has allowed a level of depth to choose from.

They have been making themselves at home at their nine-bedroomed villa for the past week which Passmore is creating a real bond in the camp. The players, for their part, have likened it to the set of tv show Love Island.

“I certainly don’t watch it but the players have spent the last two hours tuning in!” Passmore said, saying it is much more suitable setup than the student accommodation used two years ago.

“With 8 o’clock matches, what do you do all day? You really build a strong bond when you spend time together. That doesn’t happen when you are stuck in hotel or student rooms all day.

“The cheaper hotels here in Valencia are right on the motorway. So we found a nine-bedroom villa, set it up with posters around of the stuff we do; we have meeting areas, play areas and relaxation areas and a pool which they dip into regularly [it was 38 degrees on Friday].”

And, as they have throughout their programme, the players’ parents are mucking in to aid their chances.

“Una McCarthy [the manager and mother of the Carey twins], with the help of the players, cooks the food so we eat every meal together. Everyone has to muck in! We just have had a picture of two of the mothers going in to clean the toilets.

“I view it all as a development programme and the parents are so integral to that and are so invested in it. You can either keep them at a distance or involve them. Most of the girls still live at home and many of the parent do have to pay for the programme.

“The input of the parents, it has been just fantastic. Even the players not selected have had their parents turn out, run the gate and things like that. We have kids over here who didn’t make the squad to watch their Junior Green Army which is everyone in our programme and the team selected is just the 18 at that particular time.

“They understand the standards expected of them. We include the parents for nutrition talks – the ones feeding them – and we have some very good people involved like Aine McNamara as our sports psychologist. She did sessions with the parents about what can you do for your kid to maximise their abilities.

“Normally, you wouldn’t have injured players sticking around but the first thing Sarah [Torrans] said was she wanted to help the team. She’s got roles, tagging the videoes and assisting the forwards, helping with warm-ups and downs. That’s what you get when you create a community.”

It is also something that has allowed the Junior Green Army to augment their programme while the graciously received continued support from an anonymous donor to the tune of €30,000 has been a huge boost. Whatever happens in Valencia, the programme will continue from September to develop Under-21 and 23 players.

Exactly what they have to do this week to earn a World Cup spot is unclear – the FIH have yet to give guidance on how many sides qualify for the 2020 worldwide competition – and so a top six spot is the minimum primary target to avoid relegation.

It will be tough. While Ireland does not draw on its central senior internationals, first opponents Russia have several from their impressive recent run at the FIH Series in Hiroshima.

France having over a dozen of whom played in Banbridge while the Dutch have a smattering of internationals, too, which has them justifiably the tournament favourites.

“Russia have good, skillful players with indoor-style skills, good left-to-right drags and fast on the counter. They are quite happy to sit and defend deep.

“But there is a bit of a step into the unknown. They have also had a few outside coaches coming in and a new head coach named this week. So we’re not overly sure. We know some of their threats and now it is about us playing our best hockey. Overall, we have had a good preparation but we have never played with a full deck all together.

“We know they can play if they deliver on the day. I have no doubt we can challenge everyone here and beat most of them. It is a difficult pool but it was good to get that win against England.

“We’ll just go out and play as best we can; a top six spot is really our aim given the pool we are in. We just go out and play every game with a view to winning it and see where it takes us.”

** To read about the initial squad named, click here: http://www.hookhockey.com/index.php/2019/07/passmore-names-final-junior-green-army-squad-for-euros/#.XSjVkJNKi1s

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