When the alarm went off at 4.30am In Valencia and the Ireland U21 women’s team made their way to the meeting point, there was some bleary eyed athletes and a few dark mutters of half-hearted dissent.
When the pre-dawn warm-up turned out to be a pool-based session involving races between the players on pink inflatable , any observers would have been forgiven for wondering what was happening. In fact, it was the Ireland coaching staff’s way of ensuring their team of athletes was ready for the final match of the tournament, but also had a team bonding moment to look back on.
Two years later and the same athletes are now rejoicing that their coach, Dave Passmore, had insisted that the squad suffered the early morning wake-up and unconventional warm-up activities to prepare thoroughly for their seemingly unimportant match against France. The result turned out to be key to Ireland’s qualification for the U21 Junior World Cup in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The event was the 2019 EuroHockey Junior Championship and Ireland’s results had been disappointing. They had lost to the Netherlands, Russia and Spain in the pool matches and had been subsequently relegated to Junior Championships II. The final match was a seventh place play-off against France, which Ireland won by a resounding 5-1 scoreline. The win was a small consolation for missing Junior World Cup qualification and suffering relegation out of the top tier.
Two years later, with Australia and New Zealand withdrawing from the Junior World Cup, it was Ireland who were invited to take one of the vacant places. Along with Argentina, the Ireland U21 side learnt they will be competing with the world’s best junior players in December.
Speaking on the FIH Hockey Pod podcast, captain of the Ireland team, Caitlin Sherin says: ’I think there is a video floating around of us doing races in the pool on pink flamingos. We had lost the games against Russia and Spain and, for a while, I think the temptation was to just see the games out. But, our coaching staff made sure we never lost focus.’
Head Coach Dave Passmore pointed out to his team that, while they hadn’t achieved the results they wanted in Valencia, there was still a slim chance that they could qualify for the World Cup on the back of their final position at this event.
That was the motivation the team needed to set their alarms and make their way to the pool. The warm-up may have been unconventional but it is just one more chapter in the story that Ireland Hockey, at all levels, continues to write for itself.
‘We were not the happiest trying to get up at 4.30am but it 100 per cent made a difference,’ says Sherin. ‘It [the pool-based warm-up] was exactly what we needed to get us into the frame of mind to go out and perform. And it gave us an added value as a team when we look back at the tournament.’
And there are other benefits to the early morning start. If Ireland get an early match in Potchefstroom, the team will know how best to prepare for it. What are the chances that Passmore and his team will have packed a couple of pink flamingoes to serve as a reminder?