The United Kingdom Open and Under 16 teams were both successful as they took on their Irish counterparts in a series of two test matches each at Celyn’s Tournament near Chester in England. The UK ran out two different look Open teams as they tried out different options in the run up to selecting their World Cup squad at the end of August. Ireland were also trying out new players, particularly in their men’s section which featured four new faces compared with the last time the two countries played at the World Cup.
The UK Open squad ultimately overcame the Irish relatively easily, winning 30-19 and then 26-13. The Irish actually kept it closer on day 1 when the United Kingdom played a slightly more experienced team but the lead was stretched in the last couple of chukkas as the UK took control but there were some very good moments from the Irish as their new players found their feet.
On day two the Irish were always going to struggle as the UK completely changed their men’s section, giving first caps to the young talents of Max Pedley at 15 years old and Matt Smith at 17, and bought in two different Ladies in Emily Gilfillan and Rachael Duhig, who were rested on day 1 while Kerry Bean and Debbie Harris played. The fresh players had fresh horses and the UK horse power, which was probably slightly superior to the Irish’s told from the start. Jason Webb, who has been appointed as the UK’s player coach for the World Cup, also gave himself a run out in the number 3 shirt and linked up well with the young guns. The Irish fought hard and again showed some very good moments, with Joanne Lavery for the Ladies in particular reminding everyone why she is first choice in Ireland’s number 1 shirt.
The United Kingdom will be pleased with their win and the way their new players played but the Irish will also probably have found it a positive experience. They had six players in their team who were new to their open squad (only Dara Mangan and Joanne Lavery remained from their last World Cup team) and having travelled horses across on the ferry from Ireland and then playing two different UK teams over the weekend they were always going to find it hard work. Both countries now have to go away and decide which players will get the final nod.
In the Under 16’s the UK had a far tougher contest, particularly on day 1 where the Irish fought back in the second half of the match and made it go to golden goal. The golden goal itself was scrappy as nerves really set it, with a couple of turn overs from both sides but in the end the ball fell to Alice Kish in the UK number 1 shirt and she scored the most important goal of the game to give the UK a 14-13 win, despite having only been moved to number 1 for the first time all match in the golden goal chukka.
On day 2 the UK built themselves a lead after a few chukkas and the Irish couldn’t close the gap and in the end the score was 19-14 despite the Irish fighting to the end. Max Pedley lead the line for the UK boys as he played for both the UK Under 16’s and the Open squad in the same weekend, probably a first in world of UK Polocrosse and he undoubtedly did make a difference. Paddy Flavin in the Irish number 3 shirt worked incredibly hard against him and both boys won the best male player for their teams and Paddy also picked up the prize for best horse and rider combination, sponsored by Polocrosse Extreme. Overall the UK’s horse power was again probably slightly stronger and this did make a difference in the end but the Irish worked very well with their horses throughout and actually limited the UK’s advantage very well.
For both countries there were a lot of promising signs for the future as their young players showed off their talents, for most of these players South Africa 2015 will be a dream too far but 2019 could well see some of them making their World Cup debuts.