This week Gael Logan, a Scottish Waterpolo player, tells Scottish Women in Sport about the national women's teams recent success at the inaugural North Sea Cup.

image[1]Girls’ and women’s waterpolo is still developing in Scotland but a national women’s team has been established for years now and competes in a variety of tournaments across the calendar.

The inaugural North Sea Cup was held on the weekend of the 13-14 September by Ireland Waterpolo in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin.  The tournament brought together women’s and men’s teams from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Denmark and is a development of the annual Tri Nations tournament, which has been running across the former three nations for the past few years.   The inclusion of Denmark this year illustrates the close ties that have developed recently between the home nations and the Scandinavian waterpolo associations.

The Scottish women’s waterpolo team experienced mixed success in 2014, with a disappointing Commonwealth Championship in Aberdeen in April, but showing more promise in the 5 Nations tournament in Switzerland in August, coming third behind winners Czech Republic and silver medallists Ireland.  Due to these performances, expectations going into the North Sea Cup were mixed, and everyone was well aware that three strong performances would be required for the tournament to be considered a true success.

We flew very early on Saturday morning – all tournaments are largely self-funded, so the decision was taken to avoid additional accommodation costs on the Friday night.  We arrived in Dublin around 8am and after getting breakfast in the hotel had a short training session in the pool, and then went back to the hotel for a sleep.  Our first match was against Denmark at 4pm and we knew we required a strong result against the Danish to put us in a good position but were also well aware that it would be a hard first game.  Much like us, Denmark are still developing their player pathways but have a key player who played professionally in Spain for a number of years and who both controls much of their play and scores the majority of their goals.  As such, a key tactic was to “man-man” mark her for the duration of the game to minimise the impact she could make.

And the tactic worked.  Although she drew a few “man up” attacks (where a defending player is excluded from play for 20 seconds, giving the attacking side an advantage) and scored a few goals, the impact she made on the game was minimised, with the other Danish players also put under constant defensive pressure.  However, as a team we’re learning to focus on our strengths and what we can achieve as opposed to being pre-occupied with the opposition, so were keen to be aggressive in attack and score from a variety of positions in the pool, something we don’t always execute well.  The girls were focused and despite a slow start, with a lot of shots off target or simply saved by the Danish goalkeeper, we did come back from behind to win 11-6.

Our second game was against Wales at 9am on Sunday morning and we were prepared to play a fast and counter-attacking game to take advantage of what we considered our strengths and their weaknesses going into the game.  We played a really strong game, with a large number of goals coming from coordinated steals of possession and counter-attacks.  We won convincingly, finishing 28-6, with goals coming from the majority of players – including the younger players who took confidence from playing well, pushing themselves into more dangerous positions and reaping the benefits.  I believe we have never scored that many goals in a match before.

Due to the preceding results, our third and final game was the tournament final and given it was against a physical Irish team with a home crowd behind them, we knew it was going to be a tough match. Going into it, it was made clear that every player across all positions would be required to give everything and commit fully to the play, accept the physicality of the match, learn from it and move on.  However, we were also confident from the two previous matches and the number of goals scored, and were keen to continue this success, buoyed by the fact that a win would provide us with the biggest tournament win in Scottish women’s polo history.

Although we certainly didn’t start slowly, Ireland started harder and faster, and scored seven goals to our four in the first quarter, including what could be considered a few lucky goals.  This is a position we’ve been in as a team a number of times before and is one we don’t always respond positively to; however, we retained our composure and commitment and attacked the second and third quarter hard, scoring eight further goals and limiting the Irish to just one.  By this time the Irish support had quietened and some of their girls’ heads were down, having given up a three goal lead.  Conversely, confidence in the Scottish team was high and we knew we had control of the game, which can be a rare but great feeling.

We saw out the rest of the game, winning 15-11 in the end and took the tournament title with a clean sweep.  Ireland took silver and Denmark bronze, with the Welsh coming in fourth.  Worth noting is also the men’s success, with them winning silver, behind Denmark whom they lost to by only one goal.

The result is a huge confidence boost for the women’s team, especially given the poor performance in the Commonwealth tournament earlier in the year.  The team is also experiencing change, with some younger and less experienced players being called up after making their mark at a domestic level in Scotland.  The team now comprises players from 15-40+ years old – this mix of experience and youth provides an environment where performances and results can still be achieved, with more experienced players in the team providing the structure and guidance to those younger players gaining valuable experience with each game they play.

The result also bodes well for those players preparing to play for Caledonia, a composite Scottish team that competes in Division 1 of the British National Waterpolo League which starts in London this weekend and runs until early 2015.

And so it continues to be an exciting time for Scottish waterpolo and Scottish women’s waterpolo in particular.  It is a developing sport in Scotland and importantly we are still creating and improving structures to ensure the next generation of female players continues to come through, but it is also experiencing unprecedented support from Scottish Swimming and benefits from the commitment, drive and vision of the coaching staff who continue to believe in us and help us to go from strength to strength.

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