NORTH TEST IS A VITAL RUN-OUT
WITH a win for the women and a narrow loss for the men, last weekend's volleyball internationals against Northern Ireland in Naas proved a useful exercise for the Irish squads.
Both teams are in training for the European Small Nations next June and match practice is vital. While the women have some experience at this level, the men are only starting their journey with head coach Laurent Cauet.
Against a Northern Irish side, which reached the play-offs last time, the Irish men did well to force a play-off fifth set, losing 2-3.
They had led at 2-1 but lost momentum against a well-drilled Northern Irish team that contained seven members of the Ulster Elks squad currently contesting the Premier 32 title.
"I'm pleased because we have had only one serious training session together so far. It was our first match playing together against a side that trains together all the time at club level, and there is plenty of hope for the future," said Cauet.
Against the Northern Irish women, the Irish squad was determined to win after a loss to an Irish All-Stars team earlier in the day.
Northern Ireland captain Chloe Walkingshaw did some damage both as setter and hitter, but the Irish team clearly had a bigger pool of talent.
New Irish captain Noemi Kuncik led from the front with solid serves and big hits. Setters Marie-Claire Sabogal and Leanne Dignam created chances for big hitters Anita Dowling, Claire Walsh and Kate Hanrahan.
The superior height of the Irish team meant a lot of points were won by disciplined blocking at the net.
Playing solid defensive games were Jana Langford, Fionnuala Nevin and libero Sinead Conner.
"We got into the game a lot quicker than this morning when we lost 0-3 to the All-Stars. We then relaxed and enjoyed ourselves," said Kuncik, delighted with a win on her first outing as captain.
The team hopes to win one or two matches at the European Small Nations and build on that for the future.
"We will play a few matches against Premier 32 teams and then train every day for the month of May. It's going to be a lot of hard work," said head coach Johann Cardiff.