McGivern’s mark of excellence as he heads for Olympic bid

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Mark McGivern’s last volleyball match on Scottish soil before the Olympics ended in a 26-24, 14-25, 23-25, 19-25 defeat by Belgium at Edinburgh University’s Pleasance Sports Complex but no-one was reading too much into the result.

McGivern, winning his 102nd cap for Great Britain, gave another solid display and it was significant that the three coaches who played a big part in nurturing his talent were watching in the crowd.

Colin McGinlay gave the middle blocker his first chance with Team Fife II in the Scottish third division, Ian Brownlee took him to a new level with City of Edinburgh and Tommy Dowens continued his education when he coached him at City of Glasgow Ragazzi. McGivern then left to join the new full-time British programme in Sheffield and, having watched his progress, Brownlee is in no doubt the 29 year-old is ready for London 2012.

“Mark has done really well,” Brownlee stated, “He has come on so much since he was at City of Edinburgh and it is great to see him playing at this level.”

McGivern, who has just signed to play for French club Lyon next season, and Chris Lamont are both expected to be named in Harry Brokking’s final Olympic squad at the end of the month.

Brokking used the three matches against the Belgians to assess his players before cutting his squad from 14 to 12 and stressed that the results (GB lost all three matches) were of secondary importance.

In front of another sell-out crowd on Saturday, Great Britain came back from 17-22 down in the first set to snatch it 26-24. Nathan French came up with some big serves as the home side won the next seven points to move to set point at 24-22 with the experienced Jason Haldane scoring one off the block.

Belgian coach Dominique Baeyens was forced to take two timeouts in quick succession deep in the set as the set was drifting away from his team.

Belgium managed to save two set points before Mark Plotyczer blocked Bram Van Den Dries to clinch the set. But Belgium hit back in the second set, leading 5-0 and then 8-2 at the first technical timeout and Great Britain never seriously threatened to salvage it as Belgium took it 25-14.

It was tighter in the third set with McGivern coming into the action. An explosive hit by Dami Bakare took it to 23-23 but Belgium won the next two points to take the set.

Belgium started the fourth set as they had the second and led 4-0 and never let their grip slip as they took the set 25-19 to clinch victory. Brokking will now be glad to get the selection process out of the way and concentrate on fixing up final warm-up matches for London and work on finding his best starting six. Great Britain face Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, Argentina and Australia in their Olympic pool and it could hardly be tougher.

McGivern still has to pinch himself to believe he is so close to playing in what could be the only time Great Britain indoor teams are involved at this level.

“It’s unbelievable when I think back to where I was when I first started the programme and now volleyball is my job,” he admitted. “Physically, I’ve taken a massive jump but also my understanding of the game is much greater. I’ve learned so much under Harry Brokking and, of course, I’ve taken something from all the clubs I’ve been at. I’m working with new coaches and new ideas every year so that also helps.

“There have been some great memories with GB. We beat China last year and that was a big result as they were ranked a lot higher than us and are one of the highest-ranked teams we’ve beaten.

“At the very beginning, Harry told us that he had five years to build a team for the Olympics. He told us that it sounds a long time, but it’s not and he wasn’t wrong!”