Ireland’s Under-21 women’s side have finally departed this week for the refixed Junior World Cup in Potchefstroom in South Africa with the tournament getting under way on Friday at the Northwest University.
It has been quite a journey to get the tournament played. The competition was originally set to be played in December until the discovery of the Omicron variant saw it put on hold. The Covid-19 pandemic had already seen a number of changes in entrants while Russia were subsequently excluded earlier this month with Austria taking their place.
It meant a rejig of the group stage line-up with Ireland now set to face Ukraine in the first game of the competition. Their involvement has been part of a big effort on behalf of the hockey community with Polish Hockey aiding their efforts to cross the border to Walcz; the Dutch federation has since been their host, offering facilities to train and prepare in Rotterdam.
After the Ukraine date, the Junior Green Army will meet England – whom they played in a series this month at Lilleshall – before facing home nation South Africa. A top two place in the opening phase will put Ireland into the quarter-finals.
David Passmore’s side has one change from the squad named for the initial dates in December with 17-year-old Mikayla Power joining the panel.
The Wesley College schoolgirl has enjoyed a remarkable season, lining out for the Irish senior indoor international side while her debut adult season outfield with Old Alex has yielded several goals in the EY Hockey League. She replaces the injured Charlotte Beggs from that line-up.
Beggs was one of a pair of players who were part of the senior squad that earned World Cup qualification in Pisa last October. The other is Olympian Sarah McAuley who established herself in the senior side last summer, debuting at June’s EuroHockey
It shows the pathway from the Junior Green Army through to the senior panel and a number of other players have since been assimilated into the current senior Irish setup on a more permanent basis. This includes goalkeepers Ellie McLoughlin and Holly Micklem, KJ Marshall, Caoimhe Perdue and Siofra O’Brien.
Perdue is the first graduates of Cashel New Inn Hockey Club to reach this elite level and will share the leadership duties with Caitlin Sherin. Sherin is joined by Loreto club mates Christina Hamill, Lisa Mulcahy, O’Brien, Aoife Taaffe and Yasmin Pratt.
Former Banbridge player Nadia Benallal – now based in Nottingham – Harvard student Siofra Murdoch also played with the senior panel last week in their training series against Great Britain at Bisham Abbey. Benallal links up once again with former club mate Ellen Reid who is now at university at Loughborough in England.
UCD provide a healthy tranche of players to the line-up with Emma Paul, Amy Elliott, Sophia Cole and Rachel Kelly joining McAuley, Marshall and McLoughlin in the panel.
Anna Horan, meanwhile, has earned her place in the panel following an excellent campaign with Catholic Institute since her return from the US where she played with UConn Huskies.
Speaking about the tournament, coach Passmore said: “We are delighted to be finally making the journey to South Africa to pit our wits against some of the best nations in world hockey after all the ups and downs.
“This group has put in a sustained high volume of training from last summer and all the way through the winter months to get their chance to play in a Junior World Cup, a first for Ireland.
“It was tough with the late postponement of the event before Christmas when the players were building to a mental and physical peak. Combining those preparations with college exams and a really busy club season, this new date has created challenges but we are pleased to have managed to play international series in Valencia and Lilleshall and hope to hit the ground running in Potchefstroom.
"We want to say a huge thank you to the many people who have supported our journey to date. Uniphar, SoftCo and Park Developments have provided vital sponsorship to an ever-changing programme and we are also indebted to the player's universities for working with them to adjust schedules and exams to allow them to perform at their optimum.
“Facing Ukraine in the first game of the tournament will be an extremely emotional occasion for our opponents and we have immense respect and admiration for their force of will to get to this stage. Their arrival in South Africa is testamant to their resilience and the support in the hockey community and we stand with them.”
All matches will be available to watch live on the FIH's Watch.Hockey app. Click here for more information: https://watch.
Ireland squad for women’s Junior World Cup; April 1-12, 2022; Potchefstroom, South Africa (club/third level institution)
Ellie McLoughlin (GK) UCD / University College Dublin
Holly Micklem (GK). Old Alex / Trinity College
KJ Marshall (Def) UCD / University College Dublin
Caitlin Sherin (Def) Loreto / Dublin City University (Co-Captain)
Emma Paul (Def) UCD / University College Dublin
Sarah McAuley (Def) UCD / University College Dublin
Ellen Reid (Def) Loughborough Students
Caoimhe Perdue (Def/Mid) UCC / University College Cork (Co-Captain)
Anna Horan (Def/Mid) Catholic Institute / Mary Immaculate College
Siofra Murdoch (Def/Mid) Harvard, USA / Harvard University
Christina Hamill (Mid) Loreto / Technical University Dublin
Amy Elliott (Mid) UCD / University College Dublin
Lisa Mulcahy (Mid/Def) Loreto / University College Dublin
Sophia Cole (Mid/Def) UCD / University College Dublin
Siofra O’Brien (Fwd) Loreto / Technical University Dublin
Nadia Benallal (Fwd) Beeston/Nottingham Trent University
Rachel Kelly (Fwd/ Mid) UCD / University College Dublin
Yasmin Pratt (Fwd) Loreto / IT Carlow
Aoife Taaffe (Fwd) Loreto / University College Dublin
Mikayla Power (Fwd) Old Alex/Wesley College (secondary school)
2022 Junior World Cup schedule (Potchefstroom, South Africa; all times Irish)
Sunday, April 1: Ireland v Ukraine, 7am
Monday, April 2: Ireland v England, 5pm
Wednesday, April 4: Ireland v South Africa, 9am
Friday, April 6 to Tuesday, April 12: playoff/classification matches