By The Hockey Paper | Antwerp
England v Ireland, world No 4 v world No 8, looks set to be a meeting of attacking minds on Sunday in the women’s EuroHockey Championships, a clash which will also usher in the “cut throat” world of continental hockey.
Sean Dancer will oversee his first proper matches as new Ireland coach hoping for a heist in Antwerp against his former boss.
Dancer was assistant to Hager for five years up until this year when both Australians started their European sojourns.
Ireland, the world silver medallists, have it all to do, however, and will be searching for their first point in seven previous Euro meetings against the English.
“It’s a nice challenge to try and get that first win in a ranking match,” said Dancer. “For me, not being involved in games like that with the neighbour-kind of rivalry, it will be interesting to see how everyone handles it.”
The women’s event will be one of the toughest in recent years. At the 2016 Olympics and 2018 World Cup, the podium places were both hogged by European nations. With just one Tokyo berth on offer, Antwerp will be a pressure-cooker event.
Dancer added: “Living in Australia and New Zealand, you always see the Euros as a really big competition but it’s not until you start to be in it that you see how cut-throat and tough it is. We just need to do the best we can.
“Their [England’s] speed is strong through midfield which we have to manage and then get at their defence where their experienced players are, get in behind them to create stuff. They also have the world’s best keeper back again [Maddie Hinch] so we need to be on song to put her under pressure.”
Ireland will also be hoping Ayeisha McFerran can overcome some injury niggles to participate fully in the tournament, whle Nikki Evans also returns to the side.
All in, Ireland – like that of England, the 2015 champions – have changed up some of their tactical play to incorporate more direct, attacking hockey.
Dancer added: “I come from that Oceania-attacking background, that’s a style of play I have always grown up with and know. Working with the team more, they are actually really enjoying the change of mindset.
“It’s certainly something we want to do to the best of our ability. Does it mean we move the focus away from defence? It’s still hugely important but we are looking for more opportunities where we can be attacking.”
“It is a small world. I enjoyed working under Mark’s leadership. For me, I learned a lot about style of play and what I wanted from my own coaching. England have one of the world’s best coaches in Mark Hager and will be well prepared. Watching the Pro League, they have certainly done some good things. We will also know a lot about what each other is thinking having worked together so much so I’m sure we both need to have a couple of things up our sleeve!”