By RJ Mitchell
IN the first of a two part review of the European Championship qualifiers, Head of Performance Ingo Kindervater has revealed his belief that the Scottish Women’s team will head for Łódź, Poland in February, more than ready to hold their own against the best the continent has to offer.
After recording an emphatic and unblemished qualification from Group 4, the Scots will mix it with hosts Poland, defending champions Denmark, Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, and the Netherlands – being joined by three of these teams for the initial two group stage action.
Ingo has also paid a glowing tribute to Eleanor O’Donnell who is now retiring from elite level international badminton due to a brave year long battle with lymphoedema after an impressive career which saw her play a key part in helping the Scottish Women claim a bronze medal in the European Team Championships three years back.
He said: “It is obviously news that we are all quite sad about but I completely understand and respect her decision.
“Eleanor has been a high performing player for us and a team member who will be hugely missed in the daily squad and daily training, so we wish her all the best for the future and we thank Eleanor for the years we have had together.
“It is one of the goals that we have as a system that a player like Eleanor with all her experience will not be completely out of the picture for Badminton Scotland and hopefully she will be involved in other roles going forward.
“Whatever she decides to do I wish Eleanor all the best for the future.”
Note: We will have a Badminton Scotland’s exclusive interview with Eleanor later this week.
Turning his attention to the women’s team’s qualification, Ingo has praised our ladies team for their efforts in Azerbaijan which culminated in the qualification clinching defeat of Estonia a week past on Saturday.
Reflecting on this Ingo said: “The experience gained from the qualification process is perhaps what was most pleasing. What was hugely positive was not just that the experienced players won their matches, it was the whole team which delivered.
“I watched the live stream as much as I could from Milton Keynes, (Ingo was on duty with the Men’s Team during their qualification campaign) and spoke with the girls after they got back and it seems like team spirit was very high and the performance was of a good quality and that was really nice.
“As I said before the qualifiers it was about being resilient and although I was not in Azerbaijan, from what I’ve heard, it was a real test on a few levels.
“Then coming through with 15-0 in matches and 32-1 in games it is very pleasing indeed.”
In the 2020 European Team Championships in Lievin, France, the Scots shocked the second seeded Russians before facing Germany and after Kirsty Gilmour got us off to a flying start with a three-set victory over Yvonne Li. The Germans bounced back and Rachel Sugden and Julie MacPherson were pipped in their singles before Eleanor O’Donnell and Ciara Torrance lost their doubles in straight sets.
Looking forward to Łódź, coach Robert Blair, who was in the hot seat in Azerbaijan, is excited about the prospect of playing in Poland, he said: “Azerbaijan was a strong performance from the whole team. The match with Estonia could have been very tricky but the girls all played with great control to get that final 5-0 win.
“It is great that they really showed their quality throughout the team and now they have the reward they deserve in being able to challenge the top 8 nations in Europe in February and that is an exciting prospect.”
Meanwhile Ingo believes that the emphatic nature of our women’s team’s qualification has underlined our status as serial finalists in the major European championships and he said: “I haven’t thought too deeply about the finals as yet, what is nice is that we are almost expected to qualify for the last eight in Europe, so that is a big box to tick.
“We should not forget that has not always been the case for Badminton Scotland, so I am just very happy for the girls that they have qualified and it really underlined just how consistent they have become and their ability to operate at a high level repeatedly.
“In the New Year we have some tournaments in Asia and then some smaller tournaments in Europe to play and then we turn our eyes on to Poland and look forward to the finals draw.
“But we go there to compete and I am sure I will not have to motivate any of these girls to reproduce the levels of Azerbaijan and more for the finals.”