Sunday, 23 June 2013

Interview #18 - Emer Staunton (Captain)

Hey Emer, how are you? Recovered yet from Windmill?
Shtory, Hogi? Sure, I'm great, thanks. Just taking it easy for my last free weekend before we head to Canada. I have just about recovered from Windmill. Physically I was fine, but I had a serious case of the post-tournament blues this week. I just can't wait to get back out on the pitch with the team!

Tell us briefly about the season so far, from the start way back when you put in your bid for captaincy until now.
Jayney, it was so long ago.. Well, Mixed has always been my favourite division, so when the date was set for Toronto, I was really eager to get an Ireland mixed team entered. Open and Women's is nearly always the preferred division in Ireland, but I think mixed is a huge opportunity for a country like Ireland, who might be slightly behind in terms of development of the sport. I was really eager to get Liam involved as captain. There's absolutely no way I'd have been able to get this far without him. I knew what a great Ireland captain he'd make and it was hugely important that he'd be involved with this team. Luckily, he didn't take any convincing and we decided to put a bid together for the team.
We asked Ian if he'd be interested in coaching us from time-to-time and were so delighted when he said he'd take on the role as head coach. Ian has been absolutely amazing from the start. Before the trial, we sat down together and decided how we were going to put the team together. Having learned everything I know from Ian, it wasn't a surprise that he had the same vision for the team as we had. We agreed that the best players in the country might not necessarily make the best team, so we set about finding the right players for specific roles we'd made for the team. We had to make a few changes along the way, but I couldn't be happier with the way things have worked out.

Last weekend saw the team head to Amsterdam for their final warm up tournament, Windmill Windup. Tell us briefly, for those who don't know, how Windmill's format is different to other tournaments.
Windmill uses a Swiss draw for the first 5 of 8 games, to match teams with the tightest competition. This year, they used power ranking instead of victory points, so it was a bit more difficult to jump very far up or down the rankings than it has been in other years.

How did the team get on results wise?

Luckily for us, we played really well in our first game, and managed to jump 11 seeds to 10th place with our result. Our second game against eventual winners, Good Lord!, was a bigger challenge for us. They punished our mistakes very impressively, but we fought hard until the end, and made sure every point counted. The performance really stood to us, and we seemed to go from strength-to-strength over the course of the weekend. Our best game of the weekend was the last game of Day 2, against Stockholm Syndromes. The team was on fire - we just felt like we couldn't make a mistake. Even turnovers were just seen as another opportunity. The O line was so clinical, and the D line earned every single D and point they scored. I'm most proud of the attitude we had for that game. The sideline was absolutely huge, and kept the whole team running hard and fighting for the whole game. Unfortunately, we might not have had enough in the tank to keep it up for the last day of games, but it was so exciting to see the team edge towards its potential, with 4 weeks of hard work to go before Toronto. FOUR WEEKS. That's all we need: "May the best of your today's be the worst of your tomorrow's".

Hear, hear! What was the biggest contributing factor to the team's performance?
Definitely focus and attitude. The sideline was huge for us all weekend, and made sure we kept focused for all of our games. We also learned that when we played with confidence, there was no stopping us. There's a clip of our Stockholm Syndromes game in the Day 2 wrap up video from Windmill that sums it up for me. Casey walks the disc up to the front of our endzone, where a 3-man cup is waiting for him. As cool and collected as could be, he sends a huge huck to Jen who's ready to take it down ahead of a tall deep-deep, who pops it to Sarah for the score ( Absolutely fearless. And brilliant.

After UK Tour where the O line spent a lot of time watching the D line get a ton of game time how did this weekend pan out for the two lines? Was there a more even spread of game time with the higher competition or did the D line play a dominant role in the weekend again?
Tour was very frustrating for the O line, who learned a hard lesson about the importance of staying focused. Because of our under-seeding, the D line did a lot of the work for the team in Cardiff. They put the O line a comfortable position whenever they had to come on, having put away so many breaks. However, the O line struggled with the lack of game time and it sometimes took a few points before we could string enough passes together for a goal. We were delighted to come away with so many wins at the end of the weekend, but we knew there were a lot of lessons to be learned, particularly for the O line. A huge credit to the D line, though. They came together incredibly well, and have only tightened their game since.

What were the highlights of the weekend for you (both personal and team highlights)?
I enjoyed Windmill a lot more than Cardiff because our games were so much tighter which meant the O line got to play a lot more. Personally, getting a hand block in the last point of our last game at Windmill was a highlight for me. Being predominantly an O line player, I rarely get the pleasure. For the team, again, the Stockholm Syndromes game was a huge highlight. We just felt unbeatable, and that's why we won.

With just under 5 weeks to go until the first games of Worlds, what should the team be focusing on in preparation for Toronto?
I think the biggest challenge at Windmill was three days of games. The team may have struggled a bit to keep coming out with the big performances we needed. We always started strong, but sometimes there was a bit of a lull in the middle that we can't let seep into our games in Toronto. I think focused training and fitness sessions will really stand to us in Toronto. If we can practice staying focused when we're tired and under pressure, we won't have any trouble come July. Windmill came pretty soon after a bit of a break in the team's training due to exams and such, so I'm very excited to see how capable the team will be after these last few weeks of focused, hard work. We've come so far, but these last few weeks are crucial to our preparation.

You, personally, have a great deal of mixed experience, winning two All-Ireland championships in the last two years as well as being a member of the successful Irish Mixed team which came 6th at EUC in 2011. How does being a part of this team compare with being a part of the other teams you've played with in the past?
The biggest difference is Frenchi, Fiona and Buggy being on the sideline and not on the pitch! Honestly, I remember asking myself at the beginning of this season if Mixed was really my favourite division or did I just really like playing with Frenchi!! As it turns out, I still love Mixed. There are a lot of similarities between the Mixed team from 2011 and this one. Jabba, of course, has a very similar style of play, given we share a coach, so I can't say it's too different playing on this team than it is playing for Jabba. I also have a lot of experience playing with Liam, Casey and Hogi from playing in UCD so I feel like I've fit into the team pretty seamlessly.

What will the determining factor be for the team's success/failure in Toronto?

Mental strength will be a huge obstacle for the team come Toronto. Any lapse in concentration will cost us in our big games. We showed that whenever we took our eye off the game for a second in Amsterdam, our opposition took the opportunity to punish us. I think if we work really hard on fitness and focus between now and Toronto, there will be nothing to distract us from the ultimate goal.

What are the team's goals heading into Toronto? And, dare I ask, where do you think the team will place come July 28th?
The goal for this team is to be the best of the European teams. To make the semis would be a dream, but we learned at Windmill that the job isn't over after making the semi finals. The ultimate goal will be to play our own game, no matter who the opposition is.

What team are you looking forward to playing most in Toronto?

I'm most looking forward to playing Columbia. Unfortunately, I was working a lot while the World Junior Championships took place in Dublin last summer, but I got to see the finals on the Saturday morning, and I was absolutely blown away by the Columbia teams. Their passion and skill was so impressive, and I would love to get the chance to put it up to them.

Lastly, make us laugh!

I don't have any videos of Dave playing hacky sack, so this will have to do: A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: "That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!" The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: "The driver just insulted me!" The man says: "You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you."

Thanks for your time, best of luck in Toronto!

Good lad, Hogi. You're a great bitta stuff.

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