The Irish U16 hockey team are playing in a 3 match series against USA U17s in preparation for the 6 Nations Tournament in Barcelona, on July 17-24, this weekend.
The coaching team of Ali McNeill, Sarah Scott and Michelle McMillan have been together for 3 years with former internationals, Alex Speers joining the team in 2016 and Lisa Jacob this year. In a world where coaching is very much dominated by men, it is great to see an all female team helping to develop Ireland’s hockey future.
Depending on what tournaments are coming up in the year, the panel is first selected from the Interprovincial Tournament which usually takes place in October over a weekend. The four provinces and South East battle it out for the provincial title and what may be the beginnings of an international career for some. Trials take place over the October-January period and the panel is narrowed down to a 22-24 girl squad giving them enough exposure to training until the final panel is selected. A typical training day with a young international side like this would be a couple of hours in the morning focusing on technical skills and another couple of hours in the afternoon practicing 1v1s and game play situations.
In Ireland we have a good pool of players to chose from and playing at a high standard, however their lack of exposure to high level opposition goes against them. Prior to playing in their 6 nation tournament in Antwerp last year, the U16 team had two fixtures against Scotland compared to other teams in the tournament playing a minimum of 15 fixtures before hand. The opportunities to play high level teams IS there however the funding required to do so is not.
With the men’s team reaching an all time high in the world rankings at 9th and the women currently on 15th, Irish hockey is holding its own internationally at senior level however the question must be asked where would they be if more resources and funding were pumped into the younger international age groups. With more funding and sponsorship the underage levels could play more top class opposition, a High Performance Director to be appointed who would work with the Senior coaches in both the men’s and women’s game and develop structures where the underage squads are working in line with the senior squads.
Until more money comes into the game particularly at underage level, it will be the age old problem, little money, little development, little success.
The Ireland U16 versus USA U17 fixture dates:
Thursday 13th April Ireland 0 USA 2
Friday 14th April Ireland 0 USA 2
Sunday 16th April St Gerard’s School in Bray, Co Wicklow at 3pm
If you are considering going down the coaching route, here is some advice
- Get involved with development squads
- Do a coaching course
- Watch the game