Experience is no prerequisite this weekend in Bratislava as Ireland’s women return to European action for the first time since their sixth place finish in the top tier back in 1990.
Since then, that hiatus has only been broken by the six-match series in South Africa before Christmas. Those games, though, actually give Ireland a big upperhand over most of their rivals this weekend in Slovakia in a seven-team field at the EuroHockey Indoor Championships III.
The very best of luck to @IIndoorhockey Women who are taking part in the @eurohockeyorg Championships over the next 3 days.
24th – IRL V POR 11:00 & IRL V ESP 17:00
25th – IRL V SVK 12:30 & IRL V DEN 17:15
26th – IRL V FIN 8:15 & IRL V SLO 12:00#lovetheboards ☘️ pic.twitter.com/qe07H4BUoo
— Irish Hockey (@irishhockey) January 23, 2020
For Spain, Finland and Denmark, it will their very matches together with no indoor caps between them. First opponents Portugal have just three players who have international experience with only Slovenia and hosts Slovakia the only teams with prior time on court together.
Ireland, meanwhile, have the third highest combined cap total but it still represents – like the men a week ago – a trip into the unknown but one which they hope will be the start of something bigger.
They have three newcomers from the SA series with Ali Meeke, Sarah Patton and Hannah Humphreys coming in.
For the UCC goalkeeper – who was last week named in an Irish Under-23 development panel – she has probably had the shortest crash-course introduction to the code of anyone.
Due to exams, she could not attend trials before Christmas for the South Africa trip. Plans to play in the Munster championships were scuppered when a spate of clubs withdrawing saw the competition scrapped.
But Irish coach Dave Passmore felt Humphreys all-action outdoor style could be easily adapted to indoor which requires a fearless and fast keeper, often deployed running number one at penalty corners and racing off their line to act as an extra defender.
“I’ve no experience at all!” Humphreys joked to the Examiner. “Dave asked me try out before Christmas so I watched [some games online] and saw how involved the keepers were and thought that looks like me!”
It is something her earliest goalkeeping coach at Ashton HC and St Angelas’s, Alan Good – who landed a prime assistant coach job at the Liberty Flames this week – backs up.
“When I first saw her at Under-14s, she was a lunatic in the pads,” he said. “By then was a force to be reckoned with in terms of her reactions and athleticism, but it was her attitude that stood out.
“Most goalkeepers need help being aggressive but she had no issue. It was an instinct I never wanted to suppress. We used her as an auxiliary centre-back to help transfer around the back, as she loved diving and making big clears with her stick; she wanted to use it as a passing skill!
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit that her style transfers so well to indoor. She has always joked about wanting to be the first runner on corners, and now she actually gets to!”
Humphreys is relishing being part of it and particularly thankful to Passmore for getting her in the loop for trials and training since Christmas.
“Being from Munster, you are on the blindside of some coaches but he has given me so many opportunities and seen something in me which I am really grateful for.
“Sometimes we feel a bit hard done by [in Munster] but hopefully that is changing. Especially with indoor: this is a sport every can play it, you don’t need a big pitch, just a hall.
“If it can grow, the sport generally can grow. Hopefully it gives a bigger impetus for Munster hockey to get something properly set up.”
She will share the goalkeeping duties with Millie Regan, a club mate of Chloe Brown’s at East Grinstead who previously played for England underage but now has her papers in order for Ireland by virtue of her parents.
The tournament begins on Friday morning at 10am (Irish time) against Portugal before facing Spain (4pm). Saturday brings Slovakia (11.30am) and Denmark (4.15pm) and Sunday sees matches against Finland (7.15am) and Slovenia (11am).
Elsewhere, the Irish women’s outdoor team have a double-header in Stellenbosch over the weekend. They play Germany on Saturday and the South African hosts on Sunday looking to continue their winning start to the tour. They beat SA 1-0 last Sunday before seeing off the Netherlands Under-21s on Tuesday 3-1.
There is a full set of Leinster women’s Division One fixtures with leaders Corinthian hosting Glenanne looking to continue their immaculate season to date and protect the eight-point lead they built in the first half of the season.
Avoca’s midweek tie against Genesis was cancelled due to frost, adding to the former’s cancelation woes this term.
On the men’s side, Sunday sees the culmination of the Leinster indoor league with Three Rock Rovers facing Monkstown in the first semi-final with YMCA up against Railway Union. The final will be at 3.30pm at St Columba’s.
In Leinster Division One, second hosts third with Portrane welcoming Railway Union to Donabate in the pick of the games.
Friday 24th January 2020
EuroHockey Indoor Championship III (Bratislava, Slovakia; Irish time): Ireland v Portugal, 10am; Ireland v Spain, 4pm
Saturday 25th January 2020
Leinster Division 1: Avoca v Dublin North, Newpark, 1pm; Bray v Kilkenny, Temple Carrig 1pm; Portrane v Railway Union, Donabate CS, 2pm; Rathgar v Dublin University, The High School, 12.30pm; Weston v Clontarf, Griffeen Valley Park, 12.30pm
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Waterford, Ashton School, 2.30pm; Cork Harlequins v Catholic Institute, Farmers’ Cross, 1.05pm; UCC v Cork C of I, Mardyke, 2pm
Irish Junior Cup – quarter-finals: Clontarf v Railway Union, Mount Temple, 12.30pm; Lisnagarvey v Bangor, Comber Road, 2.30pm; Pembroke Wanderers v Three Rock Rovers, Serpentine Avenue, 3.30pm; UCD v Corinthian, Belfield, 4pm
Senior international (Irish time): Ireland v Germany, Stellenbosch, 3pm
EuroHockey Indoor Championship III (Bratislava, Slovakia; Irish time): Ireland v Slovakia, 11.30am; 4.15pm
Leinster Division 1: Corinthian v Glenanne, Whitechurch Park, 3.15pm; Genesis v Trinity, St Raphaela’s, 3.30pm; Monkstown v Naas, Rathdown, 2.30pm; North Kildare v Avoca, The Maws, 2.45pm; Rathgar v Clontarf, The High School, 2.15pm
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Belvedere, Ashton School, 12.30pm; Limerick v Bandon, Villiers, 1.30pm; Waterford v UCC, Newtown, 12.30pm
Irish Junior Cup – quarter-finals: Corinthian v Pegasus, St Columba’s, 1.15pm; Monkstown v Loreto, Rathdown, 12.20pm; Pembroke v Railway Union, Serpentine Avenue, 2pm; UCC v Old Alexandra, Mardyke, 2pm
Sunday 26th January 2020
Leinster Indoor League (all at St Columba’s Colege)
Semi-finals: Three Rock Rovers v Monkstown, 12pm; YMCA v Railway Union, 1pm
Senior international (Irish time): Ireland v South Africa, Stellenbosch, 3pm
EuroHockey Indoor Championship III (Bratislava, Slovakia; Irish time): Ireland v Finland, 7.15am; Ireland v Slovenia, 11am
Munster Division 1: Belvedere v Waterford, Ballincollig CS, 1.30pm
Munster Senior Cup – 1st Round: Cork C of I v Bandon, Garryduff, 12pm