The Canadian WNT have made tremendous strides over the last few years. Long being seen as the third or fourth best team in the Americas, Canada are now neck and neck with the United States (A country with a significantly larger playing population).
Why the rising success? Has to be from the determination and commitment of the Canadian women.
This group has been together for a long time, great. But the real driving factor here is the fact that most of the team picked up and moved across the Atlantic to find a competitive club in Europe to play for.
Spread between the Hoofdklasse (NED) and Honors Division (BEL), the Canadian women play in competitive matches week in and week out. Since, Europe is such a large hockey playing contingent, it has become incredibly easy for the Canadians to play friendlies against top teams throughout the year.
The Irish women, don’t have the same geographical limitations that the Canadians have. Being in Europe already, the Irish also find a lot of their players playing for strong club sides, as well as playing top European countries consistently.
What the Irish have going for them is their grit. They are a side that has been able to compete with the best countries in the world by showing a strong defensive culture.
Everyone talks about the need to defend with all 11 players on the field, and that’s what the Irish do, consistently. Thats not to say they don’t have the ability to show a lethal attack. The Irish women have scored 47 goals in their last 15 matches… that’s right… 47.
Road to Qualification
The Irish women have booked their ticket to the FIH Olympic Qualifiers after finishing second at the FIH Women’s Series Finals in Banbridge, Ireland.
The Canadian girls too, have qualified for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers thanks to their runners-up finish at the FIH Women’s Series Finals in Valencia.
2016 Olympic Record
The Irish women have never been to the Olympics before. The Rio edition of the Olympic Games in 2016 featured the first Irish team sport to ever qualify for an Olympics (Irish Men’s Hockey).
Can this Irish team be the second team in the countries history to ever do it? Their second place finish at the 2018 Women’s Hockey World Cup says, it’s a strong possibility.
The Canadian women, will be looking to make their first appearance at the Olympics since 1992 in Barcelona where they finished 7th.
Prior to that, the Canadians played at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 (finished 7th), Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 (finished 5th), and Moscow Olympics in 1980.
2018 – 2019 Continental Qualifiers
The Irish women, played in the top division of the EuroHockey Championships; in Antwerp Belgium this summer. They finished fifth, after winning all three of their group stage matches.
The Canadian women, on the other hand, took a trip down South to Lima, Peru for the 2019 Pan American Games, where they defeated long time rivals – the USA women’s hockey team in the semifinals before settling for a silver against Argentina, thus recording their highest ever finish at the Pan American Games since 1991.
WORLD RANKING STATS
PLAYERS TO WATCH
AYEISHA McFERRAN | GK | 94 CAPS
Ireland’s Ayeisha is probably the most promising and talented athlete of all of these Olympic Qualifying tournaments.
The 2018 Women’s World Cup Goalkeeper of the tournament, will look to continue her dominance between the posts.
CHLOE WATKINS | MIDFIELD | 220 CAPS
Another star in the Irish lineup, Watkins’ creativity in the midfield will be evident from the first pushback of the game.
The Irish lean on Chloe to win the battle between the 25’s, definitely a player to watch!
BRIENNE STAIRS | FORWARD | 174 CAPS
Canada’s Stairs has left her mark on backboards all over the world.
Tallying 8 goals for Canada in the all important FIH Women’s Series Finals in Valencia; awarding her Top Scorer of the tournament, and her team, a ticket to the Olympic Qualifiers.
KATE WRIGHT | MIDFIELD/FORWARD | 227 CAPS
Kate is the most internationally experienced player to ever play for the Canadian women.
If Canada is to be successful in the qualifiers, they will need to rally around the leadership and experience of Wright.
Both teams have made great strides to climb the work rankings over the last 4-5 years.
The Irish women from 14 to 8, the Canadian women from 21 to 15.
Credit to the Canadian women for, perhaps, the largest cultural change within all of the nations competing in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
The Irish and Canadian teams, are both very experienced sides. This two leg match series will be a lower scoring affair with fairly even possession.
The kicker for me?
Do you remember that photo of the Irish women coming home form their silver medal at the 2018 World Cup? Streets FILLED with supporters? A homecoming unlike anything we’ve seen in modern hockey. That’s the kind of support the Irish team is witnessing in Dublin.
Home-field advantage are a common theme amongst these qualifier match ups, big factor none the less. No different here. Canada steals a point, but Ireland walk away with the ticket to Tokyo and make their first ever appearance in an Olympic Game.