By RJ Mitchell
ELEANOR O’DONNELL believes that team spirit can prove crucial to the Scottish Women’s Team’s hopes of glory at this week’s European Team Championships in Łódź, Poland (from 14-18 Feb).
The recently retired Scotland international was part of our bronze medal winning side in Liévin, France, four years back when she starred alongside Kirsty Gilmour, Julie MacPherson, Rachel Sugden, Ciara Torrance and Holly Newall.
With newcomers Brooke Stalker and Ishbel McCallister completing the squad, Eleanor has no doubt that her former teammates have the perfect blend of experience and youth to progress from Group Two where Germany, Netherlands and Spain will provide challenging opposition.
Reflecting on all of this, Eleanor shared: “100% team spirit is very important at these events and that is something that Scotland are very strong on. We love team events and in the team we have going to Poland we have a great mix of experience and also the young ones like Brooke and Ishbel coming in.
“So in particular we have Kirsty, Ciara, and Julie, who have all this experience of these major events and that will be really helpful to the younger girls who will be getting their first caps.
“But I really think the strength of our team spirit gives us an edge over the other teams and in fact in the past some of the players from the other countries have commented on it and how close we all are.
“You can hear the noise we generate backing each other and when you are playing it makes such a difference knowing that the people watching have your back and will support you through anything.
“So I have full faith the older players will support these younger ones through it all and that could make the difference.”
When it comes to our hopes of making the cut from Group Two, Eleanor believes last week’s Scottish Nationals has provided some excellent preparation.
Eleanor, who won the Mixed Doubles at our 2024 Nationals with Chris Grimley, said: “In terms of the singles with Rachel (Sugden) and Lauren (Middleton) having had that epic in the Scottish Nationals final that will set them up nicely for Łódź this week.
“They should both take a lot of confidence from that match and go to Poland full of belief that they can produce their best badminton. They both played Uber Cup finals last year, so if they give everything they have both Rachel and Lauren should be excited about what they can do.
“In terms of Kirsty she has seen it all and done it all and to have her at the top of our order is a major plus.”
With Ciara Torrance and Julie MacPherson claiming their fifth National championship in succession at Scotstoun a week back it is the configuration of our No.2 pairing that intrigues Eleanor and she said: “Obviously it’s Ciara and Julie at No.1 but at No.2 for the doubles we have a lot of options.
“In fact Kirsty could also be added to the doubles mix and then you have Rachel Andrew and the two younger girls in Ishbel and Brooke, so it is hard to guess how we will line up at second pair.
“But I think with Rachel in that second pair, she has a lot of experience and if we go with one of the younger girls I am sure we have a real chance there.”
With the Scots set to open their campaign against the Netherlands on Wednesday, Eleanor is confident we can get off to a winning start.
The former Scotland international said: “Singles wise I’m not too sure who will play at No.1 for the Netherlands but it will be one of the younger ones and probably Jaymie Laurens who is their No.1 ranked singles player but Kirsty’s experience and class should prevail comfortably.
“In the doubles Cheryl Seinen and Debora Jille are a really good pair and I don’t think Ciara and Julie have played them for a while but it will be close.
“Style wise both pairs are pretty similar and prefer hard and fast badminton and I’m actually quite excited to watch that one.
“But we have all the chances to win that one 100%.”
Turning her attention to what will be a much anticipated match-up with the Spanish, where Kirsty Gilmour will lead off against former world champion Carolina Marin, Eleanor said: “Obviously Carolina is an exceptionally good player and everyone knows what she has done in the last few years but Kirsty has beaten her before.
“So Kirsty just needs to back herself to do it again and if she could get the win it would be amazing and although it is a big ask, as I said, she has done it before.
“Carolina is quite feisty and she makes life very difficult but Kirsty is in with a chance and it would be a big win and if she brings her best form she can do it.
“In the doubles at No.1 doubles Ciara and Julie will play Beatriz Corrales and Clara Azurmendi and Ciara and Julie have played them a couple of times and they have both been close.
“In the qualifiers for the European Mixed a couple of years back they came out on top and that qualified us and then they played them in the Uber Cup Finals and Julie and Ciara had a great game and dominated so they will go out into this one full of confidence.
“In the second doubles I’m not sure who the Spanish will go with but I think it might be a young pair who are pretty talented, so It will be tough but definitely winnable.”
Yet when it came to our main danger Eleanor has no doubt that a strong German side will be tough to take care of.
The Scottish Mixed Doubles champion said: “I would say Germany could be the toughest one but there is no reason we shouldn’t go into that one with belief.
“Germany have a few good doubles players like Linda Efler and Isabel Lohau (World No.35 pairing) and also Stine Kuespert and Emma Moszczynski, so I am not sure what they will do as Linda and Isabel usually play together but it’s hard to guess how they will line up.
“I have seen them put Stine in with Isabel before, so Germany could be the toughest one but there is no reason we shouldn’t go into that one with belief.
“In singles Yvonne Li and Kirsty have had a few close ones before but I would back Kirsty every time in that one.”
Yet while she will be watching the action unfold on livestream back home, Eleanor admitted she will be left in mixed emotions as she sits out a major team championship for the first time: “Obviously I’m gutted I won’t be there but I’d struggle with it all a wee bit now.
“After the Scottish Nationals weekend I was struggling after four matches on the Sunday but I really enjoyed it and a few people said to me: ‘You should have held off until after February’ (to retire due to lymphoedema), but the way my leg has been recently and with the flying I think it would just have been a bridge too far when you factor in the flights.
“But I will be cheering and supporting the girls back home from my house.”
Find out more