Emily Dark gets Scotland recall for EuroHockey qualifiers in France

Emily Dark, omitted from the Commonwealth Games squad, has been recalled as Scotland next week aim to book their status amongst the elite of women's European hockey.

The 22-year-old, who won the Premiership and Scottish Cup with Watsonians last season, replaces Becky Ward of Western Wildcats, who has retired from international hockey, in the 18-strong squad.Ruth Blaikie, who lives in Amsterdam, comes in for Millie Steiger of Clydesdale Western who is unavailable because of work commitments.Blaikie starred for Scotland in the recent under-21 European Championship in Ghent and should earn her first senior cap during the tournament.Scotland are ranked above all their opponents at No 17 in the world and open their campaign in Dunkirk against Austria, ranked No 31, on August 24 followed by matches against hosts France, on August 25 and Switzerland on August 27.Their most recent encounter with Austria was at the EuroHockey Championship II in 2019, when they won 3-0, but they are an unknown quantity this time.France were beaten 6-0 when they last met in 2019 but they are hosting the tournament and are channelling cash towards hockey with the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. Switzerland would love to beat the Scots and claim a big scalp.Scotland must will all of the games to cement their place in the top flight. Second and third place will qualify for EuroHockey Championship II and bottom place team qualifies for EuroHockey Championship III.Chris Duncan, Scotland's head coach, said the EuroHockey qualifiers have always been the priority this summer.He explained: “We were excited to compete at the Commonwealth Games and put on a good showing, finishing sixth.“However, if we want to keep moving forward towards our goal of becoming a top ten nation, then we have to play against the best teams and that means qualifying for the EuroHockey Championships."Duncan, who is also director of hockey at The Edinburgh Academy, said: “It’s going to be a big challenge in France, but playing in Birmingham against Australia, ranked No 3 in the world, New Zealand, rated No 8, Canada, ranked 15, South Africa (No 20) and Kenya (No 37) sets a great standard for this event.“Now, we need to bring the pace and quality of our play in the Commonwealth Games to Dunkirk and, maintaining that standard, can make us very difficult to come up against.”

While on paper the quality of the opposition in Dunkirk might not be as high as Birmingham, nevertheless Duncan is cautious. “Given that the tournament is a single pool competition basis, it is never that easy and we cannot afford any slip-ups. In particular France could provide stiff opposition, they are hosts and a lot of money is being poured into their preparation prior to the forthcoming Paris Olympics."He added: “Ruth plays in the third tier of hockey in Holland and is a like-for-like replacement for Millie in midfield and she was, according to reports, outstanding in the Europeans last month. This is a great opportunity for her.“Emily comes in for Becky and her set-piece plays are an option for us, but this is going to be a tough tournament for us, everybody needs to be focused for all games, and we need to win all our fixtures, there is no other option."

Scotland squad: Amy Costello (The University of Edinburgh), Amy Gibson (Der Club An Der Alster, Germany), Bronwyn Shields (Clydesdale Western), Charlotte Watson (Loughborough University), Ellie Wilson, Sarah Jamieson and Emily Dark (Watsonians HC), Eve Pearson, Jess Ross, Katie Robertson, Louise Campbell (The University of Edinburgh), Fiona Burnet, Nicola Cochrane and Jen Eadie (Wimbledon), Heather McEwan (Royal Victory, Belgium), Robyn Collins (Surbiton HC), Ruth Blaikie (AMVJ, Holland), Sarah Robertson (captain, Hampstead & Westminster)

Watsonians striker Emily Dark pictured playing in one of Scotland's pre-Commonwealth Games fixtures at Peffermill. She is back in the squad for the EuroHockey qualifiers. Picture: Nigel Duncan