Following 20 months of preparations, the Irish hockey squad has been announced ahead of the fast approaching European Championships.
The squad have been preparing nicely under the watchful eye of head-coach Sean Dancer, as the trip to the Netherland’s looms ever closer. The Green Army are set to pit their wits against world number one side the Netherlands first on June 5th, in what is a rematch of the 2018 World Cup final; followed by a clash with Scotland on June 7th, before the concluding group game against Spain on June 9th.
The EuroHockey Championships mark the beginning of a busy summer for the side with the nearing tournament acting as a qualification method for next year’s World Cup, whilst also serving as key preparation for the highly anticipated Olympic Games in July.
Sean Dancer has selected his strongest squad available for the tournament– a squad which includes 12 World Cup silver medallists and demonstrates a sense of consistency with 13 players in the squad part of the infamous night in Donnybrook back in November 2019, when Ireland secured a spot at the forthcoming Tokyo Games.
Speaking to the media following the squad announcement this morning, Irish captain Katie Mullan felt the squad chosen offers a perfect mix of experience and youth– a combination so pivotal for tournament hockey.
“It’s huge”, said the Irish skipper.
“You want to go into these tournaments with experienced players but you also want to bring in some fresh blood. We’ve re-established ourselves in the way we want to play and the new players are a super fit to enable us to do that but obviously you know the European Championships it's not an easy competition, it’s back to back hockey. It's the top level continental games so the experienced players that have been to Europeans before will be able to instil their experience on the youth and the talent that we are bringing as well, so I think it’s a nice mix of both that we have going to the competition in Amsterdam.”
A lot of the excitement ahead of the trip to Netherlands is that of Michelle Carey’s position upon inclusion in the squad, as the talented 20-year old looks set to make her formal capped international debut. Having impressed in recent warm up games for the Irish squad, it is her “speed”, “skill” and “upright dribbling skills” the nation can look forward to in next month's tournament.
It's been a meteoric rise to the top for the UCD midfielder who earlier this last year was togging out for Ballinteer St John’s Ladies Football club where she helped her side claim the Dublin LGFA Junior A title. It was Carey's exploits with the UCD hockey team which caught the eye and put her in the mix for Irish selection. Last summer UCD won the Irish Senior Cup for the third time in four years.
With such high stakes in the Europeans given the opportunity that awaits to secure a spot at next year's World Cup, Ballymoney star Katie Mullan insists the goals within the squad ahead of the trip to Netherlands are clear and focused.
She said: ”It's definitely that top five finish, to secure next year's World Cup, I mean that's a huge point of legacy for this team and for the Irish women's hockey squad moving forward for years and years to come.
“I think also you know playing in the semi-finals of the Europeans it's not something we’ve done before so that going into the group stages will be a massive goal for us as well.
We know better than anyone once you secure a spot in a quarter final or a semi final in the case of the Europeans, it's about who wants it more on that day and it's anyone's game, so i think to come out of our group matches with a spot in a semi final would be something very special for this group and something that we believe we’re capable of.”
Following victories in recent months over group rivals Spain and Scotland in warm up series', when asked if it will give her and her teammates a psychological edge over the opposing nations Mullan said: “I think it always gives you confidence but we all know that tournament hockey is very different to any matches that you play in preparation for that, and so we know that Scotland will be a different outfit than what they were when we played them last time, it’s always a battle against them and same with Spain a lot has changed since we played them in January so we take confidence from those results, but also we’re under no illusion that its very different when you’re there and you’re in a tournament and it's an emotional rollercoaster so we have to treat it with respect in that sense too.”
The 27 year old added: “We’re in a good place physically. Our fitness is where we want it to be. We’ve had more game than most which we’re very grateful for so ya i think the biggest thing for this squad is just the excitement of playing tournament hockey again it’s been a very long time since we’ve played in an international tournament so i feel that’s something that we often relish in that environment so it’s pure excitement now to get to the Europeans and to get back into that environment.”
With the stage set and preparations near finalised after some challenging months working hard under the ever challenging world of Covid-19– it is evident in her speaking that the Colleraine woman is content with where Ireland are at as a team and hearing such positivity will leave all Irish Hockey fans chomping at the bit for June 5th.
Ireland women’s squad for EuroHockey Championships – June 5-13, 2021, Wagener Stadium, Amstelveen, Netherlands (club/caps):
Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong, 100) – goalkeeper
Lizzie Murphy (Loreto, 13) – goalkeeper
Michelle Carey (UCD, 0)
Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute, 111)
Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins, 196)
Nicci Daly (Loreto, 189)
Nikki Evans (Old Alex, 198)
Megan Frazer (Belfast Harlequins, 136)
Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union, 33)
Hannah Matthews (Loreto, 147)
Shirley McCay (Pegasus, 306)
Hannah McLoughlin (UCD, 14)
Katie Mullan (Ballymoney, 193) – captain
Anna O’Flanagan (Muckross, 207) – vice-captain
Lena Tice (Old Alex, 109)
Sarah Torrans (Loreto, 26)
Roisin Upton (Catholic Institute, 76)
Chloe Watkins (Monkstown, 226)
Travelling reserves: Deirdre Duke (Old Alex, 141), Sarah McAuley (Muckross, 0)