Shetland’s hockey players will be pining for a much-anticipated win when they play against their long-standing “Nemesis” Orkney in this weekend’s district cup clash.
But coach Brenda Leask is leaving nothing to chance, and has even secured the services of a respected sports psychologist to give them the edge in Glasgow.
Tom Lucas has helped premier league football teams like Rangers and Celtic, and has even aided the Scottish Women’s Netball Association ahead of their appearance at the Commonwealth Games.
Leask hopes the move will mean her team is mentally prepared for the tie against Orkney, and bring an end to the dearth of district cup wins Shetland has had against her island neighbours over successive years.
“I’m not sure how many years it is we’ve been unable to beat Orkney. I think it might be 12. It’s been a really long time that we’ve been seeking a win,” said Leask.
“I’ve played in some of these fixtures previously and we’ve been coming closer, and the gulf is maybe not quite so big as it used to be. But, again, it’s one of those things that we have just been unable to actually get that win.
“I think ability and other factors are less and less coming into the reasons for us not winning. I think it’s more and more maybe a peerie bit of the psychology of beating Orkney.
“We contacted a sports psychologist in Glasgow and gave them our story and said, we are this Shetland team and keep losing to this same nemesis, which is Orkney, how would he feel about delivering a session for us?
“His name is Tom Lucas, he’s an elderly guy, but he has helped teams like Motherwell, Celtic and Rangers football teams. He has done a lot of work with the Scottish Women’s Netball Association, helping the women’s team preparing for the Commonwealth Games.
“He’s kindly donated his time to give the Shetland lasses an hour’s session around motivation and winning, so who knows.”
The team hope the psychological boost will act as the “pièce de résistance” when combined with the hard physical training they have been doing in order to keep in top shape.
Leask, who took on the job of leading the team with help from husband Derek in November last year, says a number of senior players who started off as juniors have never known a win against their island foes.
“We were starting to question, ‘who can we not just beat them?’ So even if it can help with a small percentage of the team, or it resonates with one or two of the team members, or it makes folk feel a peerie bit more positive, we’ll try anything to try and beat Orkney.”
Leask insists the team has put in the “physical effort” as well, and have been working “really hard”.
“We can see that they’re fit. We’ve done the tactical awareness and the positional play so we feel confident that everybody’s understanding that. We’ve done lots of training around skills development, so the players are really bringing on their skills.
“We’ve been training two nights a week. The lasses have been coming on a Monday and a Thursday all through the winter, so that’s been a bit of endurance training for them.”
Win or lose, this Sunday’s clash is already an achievement for the squad, who have never before reached the final stage of the contest.
The first round of the competition was in October last year. Shetland got a bye in the first round, and then had two qualifying matches before Christmas ahead of the semi-finals in March.
“It’s been fairly tough,” admitted Leask. “You can imagine the weather conditions have not been the best. Our hockey facility is not as luxurious as the football facilities that have a cover on it so the lasses have to be quite hardy in all conditions.
“We train at the hockey facility up at Brae, so it’s fairly exposed. The lasses have been doing a lot of work on our formation, we’re trying a new formation this year with something different. So we’ve been doing a lot of work on formation and a lot of work on tactics.”
Leask does temper her enthusiasm with a word of caution, but she admits there is much to be hopeful for, too.
“We’ve got to have some realism. But we also have to remember we’ve never got to the final before. So, actually, we’re outplaying where we’ve played previously ever before. Really, we should just enjoy the fact that we’re in the final.”
We’re outplaying where we’ve played previously ever before. Really, we should just enjoy the fact that we’re in the final – BRENDA LEASK
The experience should also prepare the squad for the inter county battle against Orkney later in the year.
“Whether we win or lose or draw, we should enjoy the experience and learn from it, and then we still have our inter county in July, when we play against Orkney.
“Even if we don’t beat them on this first occasion we’ll gain enough knowledge and experience. We’ll be able to watch the game and take notes, and use that then as a springboard.
“It would be great to beat Orkney, and in the short time we’ve had we’ve laid the foundations and done as much as we can, but at the same time, this is just the practice game to make sure we go and beat them in the inter county.”