Holland calls for Loreto HC

Holland calls for Loreto HC

March 21, 2024

Hot on the heels of two trophies, the mood could not be better for Irish side Loreto ahead of their return to the Wagener Stadium after a five-year hiatus.

They will play in the ABN AMRO Euro Hockey League FINAL8 next week in Amsterdam, beginning their knock-out campaign at the famous stadium against Spanish champions Junior FC (Thursday, March 28; 12.30pm CET).

In so doing, they will be hoping to become the first Irish women’s team to win in the EHL since the competition was introduced four years ago but they have plenty of form and history to work with.

Last weekend, they won both the EY Hockey League – the regular season title in Ireland – and then took the regional Jacqui Potter Cup on St Patrick’s Day in front of a bumper crowd close to their Rathfarnham home.

For Hannah Matthews, it is a special time to be part of the panel. The Olympian and World Cup silver medalist had taken a step back at the start of the 2022/23 season following her retirement from international hockey.

But the itch to get involved soon came back: “I decided to take a year out but was always there if any team needed me!

“Once I played a few games, I started reflected on it and thought I don’t have too many years left in me so thought about giving it another go while the body still can!”

It saw her initially play with the second team at the club before stepping in for games toward the end of the league last season as Loreto eventually won the national title – the EY Champions Trophy.

This season, she has played a full role in a breathtaking run which saw them confirmed top of the EYHL with three games to go having won their first 13 games in a row with only two dropped points out of 45.

“It has been great – I have never experienced a season  like it before but we still have it all to do. It’s just great being part of such a talented group and I am lucky to have made it into the squad to be honest.”

Indeed, they have built on their 2023 panel with another Olympian, Hannah McLoughlin, returning to the club while Irish international Caoimhe Perdue has also joined.

Along with Christina Hamill, Sarah Torrans, Siofra O’Brien and Liz Murphy, there are five players who played in the 2022 World Cup in the Wagener Stadium.

Going back further, nine of the panel played here in 2019 in the EuroHockey Club Cup; Loreto ended seventh, beating Ritm Grodno 2-1 – it remains the most recent win for an Irish women’s club in the European top tier.

Prior to that, they made life difficult for Den Bosch and UHC Hamburg as Matthews – captain at the time – reflects: “I remember Liz Murphy having an outstanding match in particular [against Den Bosch] and then getting hit myself by a drag-flick that I didn’t even see coming!

“It was a tough one but we had opportunities against UHC Hamburg and then a great win against the Belarussians. It was really tough, very hot, physically exhausting when you don’t have the ball!”

“We were so young when we went the last time and it is great to have kept such a large volume of players. We have grown since then. I am the one dragging the average age up but it is important we know each other so well.

 “We are better equipped, having so many more players this time around who have been exposed to international hockey. We feel really good, really confident and hoping to compete and do well against Junior. Everyone is buzzing.”

As for the challenge of Junior FC in the FINAL8, despite it being a first meeting, it is not a wholly unknown quantity.

Matthews only previous European encounter with Spanish opposition went to a shoot-out against Sanse Complutense in 2014; she scored the winner to earn bronze in the Trophy competition.

Internationally, Ireland and Spain tend to play numerous friendlies against each other and so that kind of dynamic will not be far from their minds.

“We are well used to playing Spanish teams and I know Gigi [Oliva] pretty well. She is going to be a huge one to keep a lid on. She changes every team she plays on towards her strengths – she will be a main target to cut out.”

And they take on the challenge knowing they will have a rowdy support-base. Early sales show Ireland among the biggest regions snapping up EHL tickets; experience tells Matthews that the Loreto crowd will make the most of the weekend.

“Loreto definitely knows how to go on tour! Be ready to bar-dive if you are going to join them!”

** Every game from the EHL FINAL8 will be streamed live on www.eurohockeytv.org

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