Gregg close to best blend


THE Irish women's hockey team travels to Edinburgh this weekend to take part in a triangular tournament with Scotland and France. In what will be the players' final internationals before the club season begins, coach Terry Gregg will hope to see an improvement on last month's displays against Italy in Dublin when Ireland lost one and drew the second of two matches.

The 16 player squad shows Just one change from the group that faced the Italians. The experienced Sarah Kelleher returns, taking the place of Tamara Stronge, after missing last month's games because of business commitments.

While Gregg believes November will be the month when the build up programme for next August's World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe begins in earnest, he still regards this weekend's internationals as a vital part of the team's preparations. Both France and Scotland could yet be opponents in Zimbabwe, giving the Edinburgh matches added significance.

The squad for Edinburgh, according to Gregg, is the strongest available and while he insists the door is not closed to any uncapped players who have an impressive club season, he expects the majority of the current group to make the trip to southern Africa next summer.

"I've been giving people caps over the last two seasons so everybody in the squad has some experience at this stage," said Gregg. "Now I just want to pick the players who have had the chance and see how they got on over summer training.

I really need to wait and see before I can say whether the squad will change much. At this moment I don't know of any other players who are knocking on the door but the Interprovincials in November might show up something different - so the opportunity is still there for players to come through."

The results against Italy, who had only beaten Ireland once in their 10 previous meetings, did little for the Irish side's confidence, but with their World Cup preliminary tournament less than two months away, the Italians were the much sharper team after playing several matches in the previous few weeks.

In contrast, Ireland concentrated on stamina training, rather than matches during the summer and they will have been encouraged by the vast improvement in their form in the second match against Italy (1-1).

Tomorrow's meeting with France will be Ireland's third since the offside rule was scrapped but it is still too early, according to Gregg, for the players to know how to take full advantage of the change.

"In terms of general play I don't think attacking teams have had enough time yet to make good use of it and although it may allow mistakes by defences, I don't see it doing a hell of a lot too early on. It's going to take teams a while, maybe a few months, to figure out how to make best use of it," said Gregg.

"The biggest effect will be at short corners where it throws up an additional problem for the defence because the pusher out, who will never be offside, becomes a dangerous player," added Gregg who believes the rule change will, eventually, benefit the game.

While Gregg surrenders his internationals to the domestic scene after the weekend, he is appreciative that all league and cup competitions will be completed by next March. This will give him a free rein for the African tournament which, he hopes, will lead to qualification for the 1998 World Cup finals in Holland.