Church of Ireland's Kevin O’Dea is set to make his senior international hockey debut on Sunday as Ireland play their first capped fixture since November 2019.
They face hosts Poland at 7pm (Irish time) on day one of the EuroHockey Championship II in Gniezno with a new look panel with six players set to make their debut.
Among them is Kevin – who completed his Leaving Cert earlier this summer – and who was called into the main panel this week with Jonny Lynch having to step out at short notice.
O’Dea will become the first Munster player to make his debut since Julian Dale in 2016.
He is joined in the line-up by fellow uncapped players James Milliken, Kyle Marshall, Ben Nelson, Ian Stewart, and Mark McNellis and coach Mark Tumilty is excited to see how they will front up.
“With Covid, it has been a strange 16 to 18 months but very enjoyable and that’s down to the players,” he said.
“To get guys capped, to get guys into competitive international hockey is why we have trained and worked so hard. It’s been a long time coming around and obviously, we have got the first chance to get out there since those Canada games in November 2019. I’d like to get that out the road and move on.”
The first target at this event is a top five finish from the eight-team competition which would bring a spot at October’s World Cup qualifiers. A strong performance will also boost world ranking points and offer better draw for those qualifiers and next summer’s European Championship qualifiers.
But, while Ireland are the highest ranked side in Poland at 14th in the world, that status is likely to count for little with very few of the contenders in Poland playing many games in the Covid-19 environment.
“Even from our own performances, we don’t have a lot of video so it is hard to evaluate our own level. Younger players coming into these tournaments, some will excel, some may struggle but we accept that and it is all part of what this group has to go through.
“Poland will be in the same bracket, Scotland have new faces… in general, all the teams have different faces and not many will have played many games in the last two years.” After the Polish game, Ireland will meet Italy and then Croatia, the latter being the first ever meeting between the sides. Austria, Scotland, Switzerland and Ukraine await in the classification matches.
“We have been lucky enough to get some footage of the Polish games. Sunday night, no doubt it will be a difficult opening game. I’ve coached against their club sides before and they always have good basics. Italy is a bit of an unknown; they had a very good World League out in Malaysia, beating China and unfortunate to go out against Canada. Croatia are unknown.
“Most of all, I would be encouraging us to play. We need to go away from the belief simply in hard work and defence. For me, that should be a given. I would like us to play more through the midfield, a shape to allow us to express ourselves and play a more attacking style.
“That’s how I like to play and hopefully people have seen that in teams I have been involved with before. It will take time to get it fully embedded but hopefully, we see it over the longer term.
“My goal is for us to consistently try and qualify for the larger tournaments and this is a small step on that road.
“The objective is to finish in the top five and stay in the World Cup qualification process but there are other goals in relation to our ranking for those qualifiers and also for next summer’s Euro qualifiers. To me, the focus is on the process. If we can do that, we should be grand.” FIXTURES Sunday, August 15: Ireland v Poland, 7pm.
Tuesday, August 17: Ireland v Italy, 4.45pm.
Wednesday, August 18: Ireland v Croatia, 4.45pm.
Friday, August 20/Saturday, August 21 – classification matches.