Not since 2002 has the Scottish Men’s National Team earned a silver medal in the Small Nations Championships. Not since 2003 have we managed to beat Luxembourg in any match. Not since 2003 has Scotland qualified to play in the European Championships.
All of that changed in Cyprus two weeks ago!
We arrived in Cyprus on the 4th June, as is now customary, we go a day early to help acclimatise and get the travel out of our system. On arrival we were treated to a somewhat Spartan hotel which seemed to in the heart of a building site and home to numerous cockroaches. Well at least we would have air conditioning to combat the 30 degree heat…….. Or perhaps not!
Next morning we had a team meeting to talk about the competition and what the players’ goals and expectations were. I had been struggling to reconcile the lack of preparation and the fact that we had consistently been missing players for practice and our only games at the Scottish Open. I shouldn’t have worried as GB star Mark McGivern set the tone for the whole team with a fabulous, rousing insight into what is required to play and compete at the top level. The team were hooked and the practice session that followed was awesome. Players linked with each other effortlessly and you could see the confidence of the group grow. Tomorrow Luxembourg!
Our first match of the tournament was against our nemesis’ Luxembourg, we have had so many close matches against them over the last few years and failed to win any, this was the game that I had targeted as far back as October and one that I was desperate to win. In our preparation we talked about setting the tone and to play our game without worrying about the opposition. Luxembourg didn’t know what hit them, we open up with an ace from Gavin Watt and a kill block from Mark McGivern, the tone had been set!
We went on to win the game 25-18 25-18 25-21 with some superb stats like 11 kill blocks and only 2 errors in the first set. Paul Glissov scored 18 points in the match and Mark had 15. Beyond the stats was the superb team performance in which Barry McGuigan, Seain Cook & Robin Meidzybrodski provided great pass after great pass which allowed Gavin to run a really tactically sound game, which saw our opponents only make 2 blocks in the entire game.
As I said to the CEV press officer after the game it was probably the best team performance a Scottish team has put together in a generation all players managed their top game for the whole match.
The 2nd game was against the perpetual champions of the division in Cyprus, undefeated in any Small Nations Championship I genuinely believed we could be the first to break the strangle hold. Small margins……….
24-23 up in the first set and we get a free ball from the Cypriots Gav sets a good set to Paul who hits a bomb 2 to 2, the opposite makes a really good dig and they transition for the point. This was the difference in the teams ultimately, when they had to make a play they did and this coupled with the speed they played the right side was simply nothing we have encountered before. Champions for a reason! No recriminations after this game at all we had stood toe to toe with a very good team and every player in the squad played this game and added throughout the match. We lost 27-25 25-22 25-19 but knew that a win against San Marino would see us finish 2nd at least and secure our place in the 2015 European Championships.
San Marino had lost both their opening games but I had a bad feeling about this all day. They played a style of game that would be very difficult for us especially as they were much slower and smaller than the other two teams we had faced.
The mantle of favourites doesn’t seem to sit well with the Scots as a rule!
And so we struggled to play with any rhythm at all none of the players seemed to play with the enthusiasm or energy of the previous 2 matches and as in the first game the tone was set, unfortunately for us it was the wrong tone. Somehow we came through the first two set 2-0 up however at 3-12 in the 3rd set I was understandably at a loss. Again the leadership qualities of players like Barry and Mark came to the fore. Barry demanding more from the players in a time out and Mark serving us back into the game with 8 serves in a row steadied the ship and we managed to stumble across the line 25-22 and into the European Championships. That game was definitely about the result rather than the performance so job done.
We left the tournament with some serious pluses, two wins, Jamie McHardy taking home the Top Server award, a team in which all twelve players contributed and a level of play against Luxembourg that should become our new baseline for measuring performance.
As usual I have lots of people to thank for helping us, firstly all the people on Facebook and Twitter your words of support and encouragement were unbelievable. The team were so appreciative to know that the country really was behind us. Barry Chambers on his first tour as Team Manager was fantastic and fitted into the role with ease and helped make my job so much easier. Kenny Watt is truly one of the best physios in the country and we are blessed to have him as part of the team. Finally Iain Cook, my assistant, for helping me in the tough moments and working so well with the rest of the team.
Men’s National Team Head Coach