Former City of Edinburgh middle blocker Mark McGivern will be battling for his Olympic Games slot tonight back in the city as Great Britain take on Belgium in a three-match series at Edinburgh University’s Pleasance Sports Complex.
McGivern will win his 100th cap in tonight’s opening encounter as the GB team begin their final countdown to London 2012.
In a week where the Olympic torch comes to Edinburgh, McGivern and his team-mates will be focused on winning a place in Dutch coach Harry Brokking’s final squad. Volleyball fans in the city are in for a treat, with some of the best players in the country on show.
There are currently 14 on the roster but the final cut to 12 will take place within the next fortnight and that is why the GB players will be firing on all cylinders against the Belgians.
“It’s been a strange summer not having European League matches and we’ve been playing 6 versus 6 in training,” McGivern outlined.
“Maybe it’s more difficult getting up for games when it’s the players you’re with in training every day but it’s very competitive. Everyone is still playing for their spot so it’s fierce.”
McGivern has seen many changes to the squad in his five years since winning his first cap against Poland but he has been an ever-present along with fellow-Scot Chris Lamont.
It was not that long ago he was playing in the Scottish League before news came through that London had won the right to host the Olympics and, for the first time, funding would be made available to support men’s and women’s indoor programmes as well as beach teams.
McGivern was one who took his chance along with Lamont and, although other Scots have been on the fringes of the programme, the duo are the only survivors.
“A lot of players have come and gone over the five years,” he continued, “But we’ve learned a lot under Harry. It was a good appointment by British Volleyball. There’s no-one in the UK who has his experience or understanding of the game at a professional level and he’s held the programme together. He knows how hard to push us before we break.”
McGivern had a stellar season with Avignon in the French Pro B League and helped them win promotion to the top flight, voted the best middle blocker in the division.
But he revealed that he has signed to play alongside Lamont for Lyon next season, who were relegated from the top flight in France.
“It’ll be a new challenge,” he stated, “Avignon were having problems with money and have been told that they cannot go up to Pro A but they’re appealing that decision and it will be heard shortly.
“It happens a lot with clubs. Poitiers won the league in 2011 and were runners-up last season but have been relegated two divisions to national one due to money problems.”
The GB team now know who they will face in London 2012 after the final Olympic qualifying tournaments over the weekend. Poland, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and Italy will make up their group, representing a formidable challenge.
Fellow-Scot Lamont stresses the matches against Belgium are an important part of the preparations with London now closing in, saying: “The coach has been pushing us really hard for the last couple of weeks because we’ve not had any friendly games. Certainly, nobody is showing any tiredness. We’re all pushing ourselves past our limits.
“It doesn’t feel as though the Olympics are just around the corner. I think when the final 12 has been selected then that’s when we’ll start looking forward to it more.
“We’re away from all the hype surrounding the Olympics because the squad is based in Sheffield. So we’re just getting our head down and training really hard every day. It’s only when we get down to London, it’ll really hit home.”
After facing Belgium tonight, GB take them on again on Thursday afternoon in a sell-out match and round off the series on Saturday.