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Ireland and Great Britain, 4 Months Out

Just four months out from the start of Tokyo 2020, what have we learnt from the Soft Co Series.

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The SoftCo Series has been tied between Ireland and Great Britain. After three matches and 180 minutes of hockey, there was nothing that could separate the two sides. Both teams taking a 2-1 victory, with the final game being drawn 1-1.

With contrasting opinions on both camps, Ireland will be by far the happier side as they approach their final preparations for Tokyo, where they hope to emulate their World Cup success of 2018. The mentality, pride and intensity on display by the Green Army was the sheer opposite of that shown by their opposition and Olympic Champions, Great Britain.

Chloe Watkins and Shona McCallin battle for the ball during the Ireland Vs Great Britain SoftCo series match
SoftCo Series, Queen’s University Malone Playing Fields Dub Pavilion, Belfast, Northern Ireland 14/3/2021 Ireland vs Great Britain Ireland’s Chloe Watkins and Shona McCallin of Great Britain Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Great Britain Questions asked but not answered

A three-match series would leave more questions on the table for coach Mark Hager than it would have answered. Big-name players, double Olympians and ever-presents in the squad were left wandering and looking way off the pace. Body language negative and void of creative ideas; Great Britain looked far from the side they were four years ago when they won the Gold medal at Rio. Or am I being too harsh on a side that is still four months out from the Olympic Games?

Mark Hager, I am sure, will still be undecided on his strongest team and the final 16 players to make the trip to Tokyo. The defence looked shaky, and the attack void of goal scoring ideas in these three matches. Maddie Hinch was called upon too many times to keep the World No.5 in the game.

Conceding three penalty strokes in three games was the same as in the previous Olympics’ entire competition (38 matches). Along with 14 penalty corners conceded, it has left Mark Hager a little concerned, “Ireland tested us again and got 14 corners which is not good for us. It highlights that our tackling and defence needs to improve,” Hager said, “With our attacking in the final third, we’ve been getting the ball in those zones a lot but not creating too much.”

Ireland, on the other hand, was the stark contrast. Leaving game one aside, when both teams were very edgy, Ireland harassed and closed down their opposition. A high-intensity press from coach Shaun Dancer has his side very well placed in the countdown to their first-ever Olympic Games.

Roisin Upton, left, and Sarah Hawkshaw of Ireland celebrate following their side's victory in the SoftCo Series International Hockey match against Great Britain at Queens University Sports Grounds in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Roisin Upton, left, and Sarah Hawkshaw of Ireland celebrate following their side’s victory in the SoftCo Series International Hockey match against Great Britain at Queens University Sports Grounds in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roisin Upton, all but gets her ticket to Tokyo

Roisin Upton was the standout player throughout the series. Scoring in each game, shouldering the expectations and pressure that comes with the national team, as if she had a knockabout with her friends at the local club. Roisin has done everything in her power to force her way on to that flight from Dublin in July.

Speaking after the match, she said: “Immediate response is disappointment to the third game, the opportunity was there to win it by a couple. But in general, it’s been a fantastic four days, and we’ll take a lot of confidence into whatever comes next”.

“We’ve been training hard over the last eight months after we came out of lockdown in September”, she continued, “so it’s been great to have these games to get tested against the best”.

“They’re the reigning Olympic Champions, and we’ve got three fantastic games in the bag now that we can reflect on and look back on. There’ll be a lot of take away, it’s been a good four days.”

Giving game time to a few new players, Shaun Dancer finds himself in a similar situation as Mark Hager, trying to figure out the team he takes to the Olympics. However, for Shaun, he has a decision to make where every one of his players are proving they are worthy of that final selection.

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