Niland On Ireland's Davis Cup Chances

'I definitely think we can qualify but we need to play well to do it'

The Irish Davis Cup team ahead of its 2016 clash with South Africa
The Irish Davis Cup team stand for the national anthem ahead of the group tie with South Africa in 2015 | Tennis Ireland

By Stephen Higgins | 28 February 2016

The Irish Davis Cup team travel to Tallinn, Estonia this week to take part in the Europe Group III round-robin event.

16 teams will be drawn into four pools on Monday evening. Ireland (64) are one of the highest ranked teams along with Moldova (52), Cyprus (69) and hosts Estonia (72). The pool-winners will play each other to determine which two nations are promoted to Group II.

Ireland were relegated to the fourth tier of international men's tennis after their heavy 5-0 loss to South Africa last July. The Irish non-playing captain, Conor Niland, hopes the team can rebound from that 'disappointing' loss in Centurion.

'[South Africa] was always going to be a tough one. It was one of those where I feel that if we got off to a good start and got a win in the first match, we could have won it. Then, all of a sudden, it just went away from us and it looked like an absolute drubbing. It was disappointing.’

James McGee, Ireland's highest ranked player at 204, will not be available as he attempts to qualify for the Indian Wells Masters 1000. Irish no. 2, Sam Barry, is joined by Bjorn Thomson, Peter Bothwell and David O'Hare on the panel.

'I like the look of our team. We’ve got a couple of younger guys in. We’re definitely going to be in the mix. It kind of depends on a couple of guys like a Moldovan guy called Radu Albot, who’s in and around 100, and obviously [Estonia's Jurgen] Zopp, who I strongly assume is playing otherwise they wouldn’t be hosting it.'

'But you know there’s only two spots to get promoted so we need to ride our luck a little bit and hopefully get a slightly easier half of the draw. I definitely think we can qualify but we need to play well to do it...I’ve been involved in two Group III weeks before and we managed to qualify both times. We hosted in 2005 and then we played in Egypt in 2007, but they’re not an easy group to get out of.'

Representing Ireland in the Davis Cup was always something that Niland enjoyed as a player, so much so that he 'never wanted to miss it.'

'When I look back at my career, you know you have your Grand Slams and everything but Davis Cup was definitely a great experience.'

The Limerick man made his international debut 16 years ago in a home tie against Croatia. The youngster lost 6-4 3-6 4-6 to Ivo Karlovic in his first rubber, a match he well remembers.

‘He was [ranked] 250 at the time. I was 18, just out of school. No points. I played really well, broke him a couple of times.'

That Irish side went on to lose 5-0 to a 'great team' of Goran Ivanisevic, Mario Ancic, Lovro Zovko and Karlovic.

After Niland retired from playing in 2012, he served as assistant coach on the Davis Cup team for two years before taking over from captain Garry Cahill in January 2015. So how does he find coaching players during the ties?

‘You have to keep it really simple. The rule of thumb is you don’t get involved in technical stuff in the middle of a match. There can be little pointers, but over the two or three hours there’s times to speak and times to not speak. Finding that balance of motivating and keeping the energy up and then not going over the top. So you just have to try and take it as it comes really.’

Captain Niland is looking for some 'good energy' from his new look team and hopes for a successful performance in Tallinn.

‘The coaching side of it is totally different but I’m enjoying it. Hopefully, I’d just like to get a win you know. It’s hard to enjoy it when you’re not winning.’