Irish women’s indoor coach Rob Abbott said he was “immensely proud” of his side’s efforts at the EuroHockey Indoor Championship II in Spain in their first appearance in a tournament of this level for 30 years.
Ultimately, they fell to five defeats out of five to end the competition in last place but, with a tournament restructure for 2024, Abbott says there will be plenty of take from this series when they compete at the same level in two years time.
“Immensely proud of how the girls played,” Abbott said after the tournament. “I certainly can’t fault the commitment, heart or morale. The camaraderie on and off the pitch has been great fun. Big learning curve; we have to improve in areas but overall I deem this a success. They represented Irish indoor hockey pretty well.”
After defeats to Poland and Belgium on Friday, Ireland started well on Saturday against world number seven side Switzerland, leading early on through Orla Patton and they went in level at half-time.
But a penalty stroke decision early in the second half proved a momentum shifter as Sofie Stomps put the Swiss in front and despite a Lily Lloyd goal, it ended with a 5-2 final outcome.
Against Scotland, Ireland were level twice in the first half with Orla Macken scoring her first international goals but Fiona Semple’s 18th minute effort proved the winner.
That made it 3-2 before half-time and despite an end-to-end second half, no further goals accrued.
The tournament concluded with Ireland facing the hosts Spain who needed a win to land the title and promotion to Europe’s top tier.
But they knew they were in a game early on as Ireland defended well before landing a couple of corners and created a couple of other chances. They were left to rue not taking one of those as the game turned in the 100 seconds before half-time with Spain going 1-0 up through the legendary Rocio Ybarra before Maider Altuna added another in quick succession.
It ended 4-0 to the delight of the noisy home support who celebrated their title but Abbott was pleased with how his side showed up against more resourced and experienced opponents.
“The atmosphere in the arena was superb. Loads of youngsters, bells, hooters going off. Being the last game of the tournament, every other player and staff was there and, being the underdog, they were all cheering us on which was great.
“The noise at the end was out of this world and I told the girls ‘half of that applause is for you’ because of how well we played. Spain knew they were in a game there.
“Disappointed not to get a result as I felt we deserved one or two, especially against the Swiss and Scotland. It might sound a little crazy for the Swiss game when we lost by three but it was the best we played with the ball, the most chances we created. The stroke was a big momentum swing.
“We are going back to this level in two years time. We need to be more flexible and adaptable when we have the ball, certainly more clinical and improve the way we look to score goals. Off the ball, we were quite comfortable at this level; we found a few styles of play that suited us and didn’t concede many field goals other than in the Belgium game.
“We need to improve some technical skills but we are a new indoor nation. There’s a bit of indoor naivety and experience in managing games.
“One thing we were superb at was, before today, we hadn’t conceded when we were down a player. Our structure and organisation in understanding the game off the ball has been pretty impressive for the time we had together.
“Experiencing it as a coach, it is demanding – I am absolutely shattered. My voice is nearly going with all the noise in the hall and that Spanish game was electric. You don’t sleep much because you are constantly working. I have had a blast; I’ve learnt a lot myself from the staff with me who were all superb and the girls have been a joy to work with.”
Ireland: E Buckley, S Patton, S Barnwell, O Fox, O Patton, O Macken, M Regan, H Jenkinson, M Power, H Kelly, L Lloyd, A Benson
EuroHockey Indoor Championships II
Friday results: Ireland 1 (H Kelly) Poland 4 (P Slawinska 2, A Katerla, S Tatarczuk); Ireland 1 (O Patton) Belgium 9 (J Peeters 3, M Ronquetti 2, C vander Gracht, M Vouche, D Gose, C Closset)
Saturday, January 22: Ireland v2 (O Fox, L Lloyd) Switzerland 5 (S Stomps 3, N Pohler, C Heselhaus); Ireland 2 (O Macken 2) Scotland 3 (E Dark, S Hinds, F Semple)
Sunday, January 23: Spain 4 ((R Ybarra, M Altuna, A Civera, L Bruguera) Ireland 0