BECKY WARD isn’t a huge football fan. But when one of her Scotland team-mates recently compared the challenge facing them at the EuroHockey nations championships to “Dumbarton taking on Man City” she couldn’t fail to grasp the reference.  

Ward will co-captain the Scots on their return to the top tier of European hockey in matches against Ireland, Spain and hosts the Netherlands over the coming week.

It is the stage they want to be competing at on a regular basis but it brings with it numerous challenges, especially on the back of a year where the squad has hardly been able to train together, never mind play warm-up matches.

While many of their opponents are full-time professionals who are preparing to go to the Olympics later this year, most of the Scotland squad are juggling other commitments alongside their hockey.

Ward, a PE teacher at a Glasgow secondary school, reckons that’s a phenomenal achievement just in itself.

And while there will be no defeatist attitude from head coach Jen Wilson and her players ahead of the tournament that runs until June 13, she knows there needs to be a dose of pragmatic understanding too.

“I think we have to be realistic about the situation,” said Ward. “It’s going to be a tough experience and we’re going to have to be resilient and not dwell too much on everything.

“Everything won’t go our way but it’s about how you deal with it and move on. And you need to keep a sense of perspective about it all too.

“Most of the girls in the squad have jobs or are students and were busy with that right up until we left for Holland – one of them is sitting an exam while we’re here!

“It’s quite amazing when you think we’re going to play in the top-flight of European hockey, one of the best competitions in the world in terms of the standard of teams.

“You’ve got Holland, Germany and England, who make up the majority of the GB team that won gold in Rio.

“And most of them are prepping for the Tokyo Olympics now as professional athletes. Hockey is basically their full-time job. 

“We’ve got girls going to the gym at 7am, then going to work or uni all day and then training at night. So it’s a huge commitment and something to be proud of. 

“But when you get on that pitch you put on your sportsperson hat and everything else is immediately forgotten about. You want to win the same as everyone else.”

Scotland booked their place by winning the second tier championships on home soil in 2019. The squad has barely been together since. “The build-up hasn’t been ideal,” added Ward with considerable understatement. “We had the situation last year where we didn’t have any full squad sessions together which is obviously not the norm.

“So we’ve only been on the pitch together since January and that was just the girls based in Scotland as there are quite a few playing abroad who couldn’t get over for it.  

“We won promotion in Glasgow back in 2019 and since then we’ve hardly been together as a group which is crazy but just a reflection on the way of the world since then.

“So we’ve had a lot to do already this week in terms of gelling as a team, sorting our tactics and all the rest of the preparation that you would normally look to do well in advance.”

Ireland provided the opposition for Scotland’s two warm-up matches in Belfast. And, although the Scots lost both heavily, Ward isn’t hugely dispirited.

“If you look at the positives it gave us the opportunity to see just what aspects we needed to improve on before the Euros started,” added the Dundonian.

“You’ll always learn from that experience. And better to have it before the tournament started.

“It might work in our favour as Ireland will now have a picture of us but I don’t think that will be a reflection of what they’ll face in this tournament in terms of personnel and tactics.”

The good news for Scotland is the removal of the threat of immediate relegation back to the second tier even if they finish in the bottom two spots.

There will now be instead a qualifying event next year ahead of the 2023 championships to give the smaller countries a second chance to retain their top-division status.

“Four years ago we were in a relegation battle and it was in our hands but we couldn’t get the result we needed,” recalled Ward.

“That was very frustrating at the time to be relegated. So not having that hanging over you this time does take the pressure off a little bit but you still don’t want to let the country down.

“We’ve got our pride to play for and that’s all the motivation you need.”