Youthful Ireland squad facing baptism of fire against formidable Netherlands

Tice says Ireland particularly targeting their second game against Chile as they face the reigning world champions at home in their group opener

Lena Tice isn’t alone in struggling to believe that it’s four years since one of the more remarkable achievements by any Irish team on the international stage, when she was part of a squad that won silver at the World Cup in London.

“It’s amazing how time flies,” she says, “it honestly feels like yesterday.”

But a new World Cup adventure is about to begin with Ireland facing the daunting task of taking on co-hosts the Netherlands in their opening game in Amsterdam (6.30pm, Saturday), the Dutch, who beat Ireland 6-0 in the 2018 final, seeking their third World Cup in a row.

The Irish squad embarking on this challenge is almost unrecognisable from the one that competed in London, Tice one of just five survivors from that group, along with captain Katie Mullan, goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran, Róisín Upton and Deirdre Duke.

A combinations of retirements, players taking a break from international hockey, as is the case with Chloe Watkins and Anna O’Flanagan, and others since losing their place, has resulted in a squad with an average age of just 24, with five of the newcomers yet to win an official cap.

“I used to feel like the baby of the team, so it seems like that has changed overnight,” says Tice, who is now the third most-capped player in the squad.

“It’s incredible that there are only five of us still there from London. I’ve been in the squad around seven years and it was pretty much the same group the entire time. It’s sad not to be playing with them anymore, but that’s the nature of sport.”

“But there’s a fearlessness about the young players who’ve come in, they’re not intimidated by anyone, they just go out believing they can mix it with any team we meet. I think that’s a whole new outlook, something we’ve had to develop over the years, maybe something we had to earn. But it’s benefiting us now.”

There has, of course been a change in coach too since London, Australian Sean Dancer taking over in 2019 when Graham Shaw took the New Zealand job. Dancer subsequently led Ireland to their first ever qualification for the Olympic Games, but after losing so many of his most experienced players, it will be a tall order matching that 2018 achievement.

Eleven of the 16-strong line-up are ranked above Ireland, who are at 12 in the world list, with the Dutch firm favourites to extend a remarkable record in the tournament – they have reached 12 of the 14 finals, winning eight of them, with only Argentina, Australia and Germany interrupting their reign.

They are co-hosting the tournament, quirkily enough, with Spain whose Olympic Stadium in Terrassa, 20 kilometres from Barcelona, will stage the semi-finals and final.

Ireland must finish in the top three in their pool if they are to stay in the mix, an achievable target given that it includes Chile, the tournament’s lowest-ranked side. That game takes place on Tuesday (1.0) before Ireland meet Germany the following day (3.30) in their final pool game; both also being played in Amsterdam, the Germans ranked at six in the world.

“You have to look at your group and figure out what your target games are, get a feel for how it might play out,” says Tice. “It goes without saying that the Dutch game is going to be tough, they’re the best in the world by a country mile. Our target game will be Chile, and then against Germany, well, anything can happen.”

“Obviously, it would be a huge stretch to do what we did in London – we’re ranked 12th in the world, so we look at things realistically. But we’ll approach it exactly as we did in 2018, just trying to put in good performances in each game and see what happens. We know what we’re capable of as a group.”

Ireland’s game against the Netherlands will be shown live on BT Sport/ESPN, with BT Sport covering the whole tournament across their various channels. The RTE News channel will show the games against Chile and Germany live, with “subsequent match coverage subject to confirmation after the group phase”.

Pools (world ranking in brackets) - A: Netherlands (1), Germany (6), Ireland (12), Chile (17); B: England (4), New Zealand (9), India (8), China (13); C: Argentina (2), Spain (7), South Korea (11), Canada (14); D: Australia (3), Belgium (5), Japan (10), South Africa (15).