It’s been a few months since the men’s National Team Programme won the SCA Championships’ for the first time but as they prepare for their next competition it is an ideal chance to look back at what happened in October.
Anyone who has ever flown to the Faroe’s will no doubt remember their arrival. The flight path is set with mountains either side and landing on to a raised runway in a valley is somewhat surprising! However, our arrival followed a similar story to the tour – successful despite a few speed bumps. Sometimes some bumps along the way also make you appreciate arriving in your destination a whole lot more.
National team trips sound very exciting but they can also feel very regimented. Five consecutive days of set meal times, team meetings, training sessions and, of course, international matches. It’s demanding, but very enjoyable and worth it. What made this one much easier was the players’ maturity and commitment to looking after themselves. It was often hard to tell if stretching sessions were match preparation or team bonding events but it was clear they were effective for both.
The flight from Edinburgh to Vágar Airport was on Thursday but the last member of our party arrived on Friday lunchtime shortly before our first match. Faroe’s resident Phil Freere joined our staff and was a fantastic addition over the course of the tournament. Everyone has to be flexible whilst on tour but the number of roles Phil managed to adopt might have been a record – coach, statistician, training squad player, tour guide, and coffee connoisseur. Whichever role he was fulfilling his experience was invaluable and a real asset to the squad.
The first match on the tournament schedule was Scotland against Iceland. We felt well prepared having scouted the opposition over the last 12 months but were dealt with a typical international blow of a different squad than we anticipated but this didn’t impact the confident mood amongst our group. Unfortunately, our performance in the match did not reflect our preparation and we were defeated despite taking the first set. Our side out unit had been pretty effective throughout the match but in key moments we could not score in transition.
The next match on the schedule was The Faroe Islands v Greenland. The latter looked short on experience but also had an unorthodox playing style that at times was very quick. The Faroe Islands were technically excellent and after watching them it became clear that they would now be strong favourites for the tournament – leaving us as strong favourites to battle it out with Greenalnd for the wooden spoon.
A team meeting later that night allowed the squad to address some of the key issues in our performance. The meeting was followed by a quiz with Liam Darling destroying the opposition in the caption competition. The following morning there were a few tired legs with physio Claire Van Raalte working hard in Kenny Watt’s absence. A team meeting finalised the tactics for the Faroe’s match with a change to our block defence required.
The match v the Faroe Islands had been scheduled for prime Saturday night television with the home nation clearly in confident mood. The Scottish players, however, were also upbeat and absolutely determined to perform in a manner that reflected their preparation and performance level. As you hopefully already know, Scotland ran out deserved 3-1 winners. In truth, the squad was disappointed as they felt 3-0 was a deserved scoreline after a disagreement with one of the officials’ decision following a Connor Walker solo block. Moments like that can really shift the momentum in a match but the reaction from the Scotland players showed their resilience. The final set was not one-sided by any means but Scotland always felt in control.
The post-match meal was far more enjoyable than the previous evening but there were also some seriously tired legs amongst the squad. Such was the mentality amongst the group there was not a single complaint the next morning when preparing for the final match v Greenland. At this point, we already knew a 3-0 win against Greenland was mandatory in order to give ourselves a chance. This was far from certain given how hard Greenland had pushed Iceland the night before. We also required a 3-1 win for the Faroe’s over Iceland. Having played both teams, the feeling amongst the team was the required scoreline was entirely possible.
Our match against Greenland was over quickly with the Scotland squad being absolutely ruthless in attack. Now it was over to the Faroe Islands and Iceland to see what happened. The efficiency of the Scotland offence meant that should the points and set scores create a three-way tie, we would be hard to shift from the top of the table.
Winning tournaments always feels good and most people would prefer to win the match whilst on court, however, there was something quite special about having the whole squad and staff standing together when the result came in. Not a moment that will be easily forgotten. Some of the sore legs suddenly got a bit more spring in their step once again.
The presentation after the final match gave us more reasons to celebrate with Niall Collin, Conor Walker and Edward Oldbury all receiving individual awards for the best player in their position throughout the tournament. Worthy winners in a high-performance environment.
Breakfast the following morning was just as enjoyable with the players beginning to realise they were the first Scotland team to win the SCA Championships’. Smiles were all around the breakfast table. The current group of players and staff have not won an international tournament before so one final, and not anticipated, challenge lies ahead. Does the trophy get checked in or is it allowed as hand luggage? Thankfully the trophy made it home unscathed just like the rest of the group.
A few thank you’s are required after the trip. Firstly to the players – they were just outstanding in every task. Secondly, to those who were not with us – the workforce at the SVA who were all involved in assisting us in our preparations. In the 12 months prior to the tournament we also had a large backroom staff that were not able to travel – Kenny Watt (Head of Performance), Tom Smale (Strength & Conditioning) and Archie Breckenridge (Sports Science). Claire Van Raalte (Physio) and John Swan (Team Manager) and Kevin Chisholm (Coach) deserve thanks for their constant support on tour.
Phil Freere deserves a special mention, not only for the variety of the roles he fulfilled whilst with us but also for his unwavering commitment to the team. Seldom have we met someone who loves our sport more than Phil.
The final thanks perhaps deserves an article on its own. Ally Galloway has amassed over 100 caps for Scotland as a player, represented Great Britain, played professionally, won every trophy in Scotland and has now played an integral part in helping Scotland men bring home their first SCA Championship trophy. Ally has now stepped back from his coaching role to focus on his recovery from a foot injury but he will be sorely missed for his humour, determination and coaching.
Now the Scotland Men’s Programme looks forward to our next challenge – The Novotel Cup.
“Bring the past, only if you are going to build from it”
Domenico Cieri Estrada