Irish women’s coach Sean Dancer has named an 18-player central panel and two travelling reserves ahead next week’s vital World Cup qualifying competition which takes place in Pisa from October 21st to 24th.
The eight-team competition will be played in a knock-out format with only one side earning a place at next summer’s World Cup which will be played at venues in Spain and the Netherlands.
Ireland (12th ranked) meet France (27th) in their first game on October 21st (10.30am, Irish time) with the winner going on to play either Russia (20th) or Belarus (21st).
Scotland (19th), Poland (23rd), Italy (17th) and Wales (25th) are on the other side of the draw.
Dancer’s central panel features 15 of the squad that travelled to the Olympic Games July with Niamh Carey, Erin Getty and Ellen Curran coming into the line-up.
“I am excited about the future and the balance within the squad,” coach Dancer said of his selection. “We have retained a lot of experience and have a lot of excitement coming through. It sits really nicely.”
For the players coming in, they have been aided by a comprehensive summer program with the Irish development squad, overseen by David Passmore which has been a fruitful avenue for those making the step up.
UCD’s Niamh Carey joins her twin sister Michelle in the panel and is on course to make her first capped international appearance in the quarter-final against France.
She has been part of the panel for most of the past year and lined out against Great Britain in a couple of challenge matches.
Queen’s University’s Erin Getty was one of the guiding lights of the summer developmental series to force her way back into senior international reckoning.
The Queen’s University player earned eight caps in 2017 and 18 before a number of injuries set back her progress.
Pembroke’s Ellen Curran is another to return to the line-up. With 24 caps to her name, she was involved with the Green Army setup in the early phases of 2020, touring South Africa, prior to the postponement of the Games to 2021.
“Niamh has been in and around the senior group previously and has built on her strength on the ball and is scoring goals. She is very dangerous as an attacking player and we hope she will continue that.
“Erin played for Ireland before but never previously with me due to a long term injury which put her out for a while but, to her credit, she has worked really hard to get back into a position to be in the green shirt again.
“For Ellen, she had issues around her calf and ankle which didn’t make things easy for her but, once again, she took that time to work on areas we wanted her to. Credit to her, she staked her claim for a spot now and looking forward to seeing her use her speed and skill to create some havoc.
Of the Tokyo panel, Shirley McCay, Hannah Matthews, Lizzie Colvin and Nicci Daly have since stepped back from the program as have Nikki Evans and Grace O’Flanagan.
Reflecting on that changing of the guard, coach Dancer said it is “a natural” progression for the side in the wake of the Olympic Games, paying tribute to their immense contributions to the cause.
“It’s amazing how much effort the players have put into not just the last three years but the last eight to ten years to qualify for their first ever Olympics, giving it everything they’ve got,” Dancer said.
“It is natural some will step away and, for others, they needed a good break to refresh and get back to life, work, family and social things. I wanted to make sure everyone got a good break and once all the dust had settled, it certainly great to have a lot of experience in the group.
“Anna O’Flanagan, Chloe, Róisín, Ayeisha, Lena, Katie, Deirdre – we do have a huge amount there from the Olympics and beyond. We have to draw on that first of all and expect those guys to stand up under pressure which I certainly know they will.
“The flip side is the excitement. We have players who have never had a test match before; first ever event and they get to try qualify for a World Cup.”
The tournament also allows for two travelling reserves with Charlotte Beggs and Jane Kilpatrick joining the panel in Pisa.
While first opponents France are the lowest-ranked side in the competition, Dancer is more than wary of what they have to offer.
With the Paris Games in mind, they have been working together close to full-time for a number of years and a silver medal at this summer’s EuroHockey Championship II shows they are on thr rise.
“France has been preparing well, not just this year, but with 2024 in their sights and getting there as host nation, they have a lot to play for. They did really well in the European Division 2 tournament. First team to meet, it will not be easy but we have to back our experience and what we have done in the last 18 month to get over the top of them.”
Irish senior women’s panel for World Cup qualifiers (club/caps):
Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong, Netherlands, 110)
Lizzie Murphy (Loreto, 13)
Lena Tice (Old Alex, 119)
Róisín Upton (Catholic Institute, 86)
Hannah McLoughlin (UCD, 24)
Sarah McAuley (UCD, 6)
Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union, 43)
Michelle Carey (UCD, 7)
Katie Mullan (captain, Ballymoney, 203)
Ellen Curran (Pembroke, 24)
Sarah Torrans (Loreto, 31)
Chloe Watkins (Monkstown, 234)
Zara Malseed (Ards, 4)
Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute, 119)
Niamh Carey (UCD, 0)
Deirdre Duke (Old Alex, 151)
Anna O’Flanagan (Muckross, 217)
Erin Getty (Queen’s, 8)
Charlotte Beggs (Ulster Elks, 0)
Jane Kilpatrick (Belfast Harlequins, 0)
Head coach: Sean Dancer
Assistant coaches: Gareth Grundie, David Fitzgerald
Manager: Lisa Jacob
Physical trainer: Claire Brady
Physio: Stephen Brownlow
Video Technician: Mark Kavanagh