31st July 2017: Henry Weir who recently spoke to hockey.nl ahead of the Rabo EuroHockey Championships says small changes in England’s off-field behaviour is having a big knock-on effect to their on-field connections as they look to continue their strong 2017 form into August’s European Championships.By their own admission, the side under-performed – under the Great Britain banner – at the 2016 Rio Olympics, missing out on a quarter-final berth. It led to a comprehensive debriefing process with a new-look squad putting forward measures that can help build a winning culture and put them in the frame for winning major medals once again.

“With some big tournaments very early in the [Olympic] cycle it has been important to us to ensure that the group gel as quickly as possible,” the livewire midfielder said. “We have a few small and simple methods including no phones at team meal times, making an effort to get to know each other on a deeper level than the usual ‘how are you today’ and we have more team social activities away from training. All of these things and more are bringing us closer together. The squad are driving these changes and there has been a positive buy in from all. We see in connections we make off the pitch as vital to our success on it.”

His team mate Sam Ward agrees, adding: “I think there is a fresh feel around the group and we are all excited to be part of it. Having lots of new people in the squad brings freshness. We are all buying into our team culture very well and it’s all about our team being a high unit. So this is something that we can take in to the next few years.”

To date this year, it appears to be working. England won the Sultan Azlan Shah title for the first time. At the World League Semi-Final in London, they lost just once – to eventual winners, the Netherlands – and noticeably played with a smile on their face, Barry Middleton’s beaming grin one of the defining images of the competition. And Weir says this is indicative of their mood at this stage of the year.

“As always at the start of a cycle, it’s very fresh and exciting with new players and staff coming in and altering the group dynamic. So far, things are going very well and we our thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We have had some brilliant performances and are really having a lot of fun out on the pitch. We are upbeat at training whilst maintaining a level of focus and drive towards the Europeans.”

In Amsterdam, England will feature in a group with Poland, Germany and Ireland, sides Weir is aware pose three very different challenges. “Germany are obviously the big match up of the group with a very talented squad as always. We can expect a high paced, high-quality game. Quick forwards and very well organised defence.
Ireland also have some very talented players and play with a lot do defensive intensity and heart. Although they won’t be as organised as Germany, they make up for it with passion and work rate. They have beaten us before in big tournaments so it is a match up that we will need to commit fully to in order to get a result. Poland are a little more unknown for us having not played them many times at all. We will prepare as we always do and take nothing for granted.”

Indeed, Ireland have proven a thorn in England and GB’s side in recent years. Indeed, they have just one win from their five capped meetings, with the Green Machine winning in London in 2015 to beat them to bronze in the last Europe.
“In my time playing for England, we have missed out on a bronze medal on more than a few occasions. For me it’s not wanting to get revenge on Ireland who thoroughly deserved that medal, It’s making sure we win our internal battles and perform in the latter stages of tournaments. It is a habit we have yet to consistently acquire but this is a new squad with a new feeling.”

To that end, the likes of Simon Mantell, Dan Fox, Alastair Brogdon and Dan Shingles retiring and Ashley Jackson taking up an ice hockey contract for the time-being, it is a squad with plenty of fresh faces.
Liam Sandford has come in from the Under-21 panel while Brendan Creed and David Goodfield are quality additions having progressed in recent years, spurred by a brilliant run with Harvestehuder THC in the Euro Hockey League.

They are dove-tailing with the vastly experienced Middleton, Adam Dixon and Mark Gleghorne for a blend Weir believes will battle it out with the best for the medals.
“I think we are amongst the top four teams in the tournament. This will be our first major tournament as a group but I feel that if we continue on the path we have been on this summer then medals are a very realistic. “We must stick together and prepare better than anyone else. If we do this I know we will give ourselves a chance. We go to Amsterdam to win!”

The Rabo EuroHockey Championships run from 18th – 27th August

Follow the story on the Tournament website here

Photograph: Frank Uijlenbroek (c)