Banbridge to stage opening phase of World Series as Dublin pitches unfit

Arlene Boyles takes reins of Ireland women’s hockey squad following Shaw’s resignation

Hockey Ireland can only hope that the second two weeks of March prove considerably less testing than its first fortnight, the month so far bringing news of Graham Shaw’s resignation, followed by the announcement earlier this week that neither the National Stadium at Belfield nor the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown would be ready in time to host June’s World Series tournament.

Banbridge, then, has been selected to stage the opening phase of the team’s attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, and while the venue will no doubt do a fine job at hosting the tournament, there’s no hiding the disappointment over the fact that not a single ground in Dublin was deemed capable of staging the event – because their pitches weren’t up to international standard and/or because they didn’t have the facilities to host a moderate enough sized crowd nor broadcasters televising the event.

Belfield, the national team’s usual home, was Hockey Ireland’s preferred host, but work has only just started on bringing the weary old venue – and pitch – up to scratch, and there was no guarantee that it would be ready for June.

Silver medallists

Since it was in October that Ireland was announced as one of the host nations for the World Series finals, June seemed a reasonable enough target to have everything in place, but it wasn’t to be, so there will be no Dublin homecoming for the World Cup silver medallists. Instead, it’s off to Banbridge they go.

Arlene Boyles, meanwhile, has taken over from Shaw, on an interim basis, as head coach of the national team. The former Irish captain, who won 122 caps between 1995 and 2003, cut her coaching teeth with her club Pegasus before leaving to take up the role of assistant to Shaw in 2016.

By their own lofty, trophy-laden standards, Pegasus endured a couple of barren enough years after Boyles’ departure, but normal service has been resumed, the club currently sitting top of the Hockey League table, two points clear of Loreto with five games to play. They’re away to Old Alexandra, seventh in the table, on Saturday, with Loreto on the road too, Belfast Harlequins their opponents at Deramore Park.

Third-placed UCD meet Railway Union at Park Avenue, a day ahead of Railway attempting to complete a Jacqui Potter Cup three-in-a-row when they take on Alexandra at Grange Road. Cork Harlequins, in fourth, are away to bottom club Muckross, while second-from-bottom Ards travel to Pembroke Wanderers, who are just a point adrift of Harlequins.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times