After what can only be described as an extremely intense eight days for both of the Irish International Hockey teams, both physically and mentally, they are now back in Ireland on a compulsory ‘hockey free’ month.
The Irish teams experienced mixed success throughout the tournament but the conclusion saw the women retain their ‘A’ European status in sixth place and the men, somewhat unbelievably, relegated to ‘B’ status finishing in seventh place.
The EuroHockey Nations Championship offered automatic Olympic spots to the top three finishers, however, both Irish coaches also have their eye on the longer and perhaps more realistic goal, of focussing on the Olympic Qualifier Tournament.
Women’s coach Gene Muller had commented before the tournament, “You have to think beyond the Europeans. We are unlikely to achieve a top 3 placing and gain automatic Olympic qualification.”
“It will be the long route for us, if I were to try to see into the future. The team are progressing and our younger players are still developing. I think that we need more tournament experience with this team and more time. I still view the Europeans as a dress rehearsal for the Olympic qualifiers - it’s the realist in me. That does not mean that I don't recognise the opportunity for performance that the Europeans present.”
The women didn’t get off to the best start at the Europeans conceding points in their first two matches, to the higher ranked English (0-3) and Dutch (0-6). The key to their success was focussing on the games where they realistically felt they could secure points and convert goals namely against Italy (3-0) and Ukraine (2-1) which enabled them to finish in sixth spot to retain their A status.
This was Gene’s first major tournament at the helm of the Irish Women’s Team and it has given him some insight into his team in a tournament environment “Most importantly it gives us a benchmark performance under pressure. Six months before the Olympic qualifier this is probably the best thing that could happen to us and give us a chance to address aspects of our play.”
Despite the different outcome for the men, some would comment somewhat unfairly, Coach Passmore still has his eye on the prize and takes a practical approach when reviewing his team’s performance in Manchester ‘There were many many good points that came out of the Europeans and it is still hard to believe that we have been relegated from the A division with the best defensive record having only conceded 4 goals in 5 matches.”
“However, that is the nature of sport and things always come down to very fine margins. Whilst taking heart from the performances in all the other four matches we need to take a good look at why aspects of our game were not right in the critical match against France. We had 8 field shots and 6 corners and failed to convert”
Passmore and his men were well honed heading towards the Europeans. But there are some things you just can’t for see, such as loosing players at the last minute. And when one of those players is your corner injector, it’s a tough blow to handle “The progress this team has made is significant but we didn't exactly go into the tournament with the best preparation losing Jason Black and Tim Lewis late on and Phelie Maguire’s finger injury preventing him taking full part.” explained Passmore.
Ireland’s men did however prove that they are well able to mix it with the best in the world, in their opening game they drew with world number 3’s Spain (1-1). The Irish men then nearly caused a massive tournament upset when they were very unlucky not to come away with at least one point against eventual tournament winners The Netherlands (0-1). Obviously encouraged to see his team compete on an equal footing with hockey’s best, Passmore continued “We will take huge confidence from the performances against Spain and Holland towards the Qualifier which is likely to be in early February in Auckland. We know now we can mix it with the best and have a chance of qualification for Beijing.”
Both International Coaches, Dave Passmore (men) and Gene Muller (women), have given their players a four week break from hockey (both internationally and at club level) although it is not all rest as the players will begin their physical preparation for the next milestone, The Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Source: Irish Hockey Association
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