Green Army’s Anna hails steadying hand

by Stephen Findlater

Anna O’Flanagan says interim coach Gareth Grundie’s calm, composed demeanour will complement the Irish women’s hockey team’s exuberant outlook for the FIH Series Finals in Banbridge next week.

The Rathgar woman is among a series of south Dubliners involved in the Irish women’s squad who start their Olympic qualifying journey this week, looking to back up last summer’s World Cup silver medal.

Since then, coach Graham Shaw has moved on to a job in New Zealand while replacement Sean Dancer has yet to take on the role full-time.

It leaves Grundie – an assistant under Shaw – in charge for the tournament which starts with a date against Malaysia on Saturday before Ireland face Czech Republic and Singapore.

“He ‘s an exceptional coach, reads the game really well, does a lot of homework and is very organised and plans everything exceptionally,” O’Flanagan said of Grundie.

“He’s quiet and calm and you know exactly what he wants from you. He’s really brought that steadiness to the team and that ability to be calm and composed.

“I think he really complements us because we do have quite an outgoing group of girls. Sometimes we need to be brought back down to earth! It’s perfect.”

For O’Flanagan, she has just completed a productive second season in the Netherlands, this time with Pinoke who achieved the highes finish for a promoted side to the Hoofdklasse – eighth – in ten years, scoring her share of goals along the way.

Indeed, the quality of hockey over in the Netherlands did not allow her much time to rest on the laurels of the World Cup “craziness”.

“It was a bit tough at first to go back over so soon, with so much excitement here still but as I look back I’m very grateful for it because it got me back into the swing of things very quickly.

“When you go back to Holland and you’ve come second in a World Cup, they don’t really care!”

While the Dutch may not care, the newly-aware Irish public will certainly be looking forward to the Series Finals with an expectation. After many years of being the outsiders, the underdrogs looking to cause a shock, Ireland go into this competition as the top-ranked side in a group that they should top.

Managing that change of mindset will be the challenge for O’Flanagan and her cohorts.

“We’re in a different situation now, maybe there’s a bit more of a target on our backs than previously and probably more pressure as well. That’s something we need to deal with.

“It’s definitely the first time we’ve had to deal with that expectation.

“But it’s one of those things we need to stay focussed on our job; on how we can impose ourselves on the game and on tournaments.”

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