Opportunity knocks for pembroke and curran

When Irish side Pembroke line-out against Spanish side Sanse Complutense in the opening game of the EHL Women’s FINAL8, it will be something of a novelty according to key player Ellen Curran.

“It makes a nice change not to be playing a Dutch side first!” she told the EHL website. Dating back to 2017, the Irish entrant into Europe’s top tier has ended up drawn with Dutch opposition.

Last year, Pegasus endured a tough outing against Den Bosch; wearing a Hermes-Monkstown shirt in 2017, she also faced the Brabant giants, an experience she enjoyed despite a heavy defeat.

“As a young player, it was such a cool opportunity. We had Den Bosch in the first game and lost 9-0 but it was cool trying to make tackles on such talented players, being up against Maartje Paumen.”

A year later with UCD, the Irish international faced AH&BC Amsterdam while, in 2019, Loreto also met Amsterdam. Instead, first time EY Hockey League champions Pembroke will meet Complutense, hoping to be the first Irish side to reach the top four in Europe’s top tier since Pegasus in 1982.

“We have managed to get a bit of research done on them and a bit of video together,” Curran says of the prospect of facing the Spanish champions, a side she met before in 2017, is very different and opportunity knocks.

“Like most Spanish sides, they will be very skillful and fast which is something we will have to manage. But I definitely think we can pose threats. We have been very good defensively between this season and last season and we are also confident if we win corners, we will get opportunities and are fully focused on that first game.”

Both clubs are enduring transitional seasons this term since last year’s silverware with Pembroke in mid-table and Complu lying in eighth place in the Iberdrola League. For Pembroke, five players emigrated last summer including World Cup silver medalist Gillian Pinder; for Sanse, Lola Riera, Lucia Jimenez and Patricia Alvarez are among the big name departures.

“Similar to us, we are EYHL champions last year but haven’t really backed up the way we would have like to and try go back-to-back. It has been harder than we would have like it to be, lost a few players that we won the league with. 

“Trying to backup a title is very difficult and has proven to be so. We have had good results here and there but we are lacking consistency since losing the likes of Gill Pinder – so many caps and experience – and Aisling Naughton.

“We have young players who came in and have done a really good job. They are really excited for this opportunity.”

Curran is in her fourth European campaign and she is among a number of players with European experience. Captain Leah McGuire and sisters Sarah and Emma Young have two other tournaments under their belt; ex-international Sinead Loughran played in campaigns for Hermes-Monkstown and Hermes.

And the trio of Rachel O’Brien, Hayley O’Donnell and Orla Macken all played in Pembroke’s last European trip in 2015 when they went to Minsk for the Club Champions Trophy.

“It’s a big opportunity and we very much back ourselves against the Spanish side. For Pembroke, it has been one of our biggest focuses. We want to go over and put in a performance; it is a real opportunity for us as a club team,” Curran added.