By British Paralympic Association
Relief was the overriding emotion Great Britain’s goalball head coach Faye Dale felt after watching her side retain their place in the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball European Championships B.
The pressure was on the GB team going into their final game of the tournament in Chorzow, Poland, as they battled it out with Montenegro for seventh, knowing defeat would result in relegation.
But despite being pushed until the final whistle, with Montenegro coming close to equalising in the last second, the men triumphed 4-3 to secure their fate for another year.
And having had a bumpy start to life in pool B following their relegation from A last year, Dale admitted her main focus was on making sure the team did not slip any further.
“Relief was the feeling afterwards, in all honesty, because we’d gone from A to B level and we’d already stamped our mark on goalball from a Great Britain point of view,” she said.
“We’re a team that is definitely coming through the ranks, but you’ve got to prove it and actually stay up where you need to be - and B is a level we’re currently at.
“We’re rebuilding a squad so we were just relieved to now have 18-24 months to continue building that squad for the next B championship to hopefully go for promotion into A in a couple of years.
“We could have made it a bit easier for ourselves, we didn’t need to leave it until the last game, but having a quarter-final against Ukraine, they are a phenomenal setup.
“They have six guys that have been playing together for a long time and for us we have some young players that haven’t played for very long, so to go up against them is no mean feat.
“They deserved to win it overall and to be honest, we probably hit where were expected to hit and if we played really well we could have been promoted – but it was relief we were not relegated.”
Great Britain lost their opening games of the Championships to hosts Poland and Portugal, before progressing to the quarter-finals with a 9-8 win over Slovenia and a 6-6 draw against Spain.
They were humbled by Ukraine in the first knockout round and found themselves in danger of dropping out of the B pool, but Dale hailed her side’s fighting spirit to bounce back again.
“Our professionalism, our fight and determination shone through against Montenegro,” she said. “The setup we’ve got is far superior to what they’ve got, but they showed fight and determination.
“We managed to get over the line, though. Could we have done it a bit easier? Yes, 4-3 with them scoring with ten seconds left gets the adrenaline running for everyone, but the professionalism at the end came through and we got over the line.
“The guys showed some great passion to come back after our first two games, we played well against Poland, but they were the home nation and had a lot of support.
“Then we lost to Portugal in a close game that could have swung either way, so for us to come back in the group stages after two losses showed some incredible passion.
“We did the job against Slovenia, we were 7-1 up at one point and nerves came in during the second half, so we could have made it easier but they learnt a lot from the experience.”
Dale is now feeling positive about the future of the men’s team, highlighting the performance of young Joseph Roper as an example of the talent the GB team has at their disposal.
“Joseph Roper played in the last game in his first European Championships, he’s only 20 and we’ve been setting him up as a centre and we decided to put him on the wing for the last game,” she said.
“It was probably the biggest game of his life and it was a huge call to make over our more experienced player, but sometimes you’ve got to take a gamble and it paid off.
“He played the best game of goalball I’ve ever seen him play and to play the full 24 minutes was outstanding, there is only more to come from him which is brilliant.
“All the other players had their moments when they needed to have them, Dan Roper was top goal scorer for us as always and he is a very experienced leader for the team.
“Matt Loftus in the centre, he had a phenomenal game in that last game, so put it all together and you win a game, which was good and I’m very proud of all of them.”
Ukraine, Greece and Spain were promoted to the A pool in Chorzow and will now get the chance to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in 2019.