Dancer says Ireland will focus on attacking Canada in Olympic qualifier
Ireland coach expects opponents to be ‘aggressive and play hard’ in double-header
Ireland coach Sean Dancer. His side are vying for their first ever Olympic qualification. Photograph: John Cowpland/Inpho
Olympic qualifier: Ireland v Canada - Saturday 7.00pm; Sunday 7.10pm, Energia Park, Donnybrook (both matches live RTÉ)
In the thinking of both sides the prize is incalculable. Success for Ireland would be the first time ever for a women’s team to play in an Olympic Games. For the Canadians, it would be the first time in 30 years if they were to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
It is also different format, the hockey pitch laid in the rugby ground a new way of thinking about the sport in Ireland. Hockey’s idea of build it and they will come should also please the international governing body, the FIH, who plotted for a high-stakes double-header with the aggregate score claiming the one place next summer. It seems to have delivered the shock and awe drama they have been looking for.
Ireland, ranked eighth in the world to Canada’s 15th, will have to wear the hat of favourites over the two nights in Energia Park, Donnybrook, a dramatic change from their status at the World Cup of just over a year ago.
To that end coach Sean Dancer has tried to encourage an attacking mentality into the squad, who are in a good space having come off this year’s European Championships with a fifth-place finish to equal their previous best.
“The key thing for us is we play our style of game. Since I’ve taken over, I’ve tried to instil a more attacking style of play and I just hope the girls really embrace that and take their opportunities and that they see it as a good challenge,” said Dancer who has been part of the Irish setup for just a few months.
“We certainly know Canada are going to be aggressive and play hard. We’re really looking forward to these games coming up and the main thing now is that we just get started and get into it.”
The Canadians arrive, as Dancer put it, as a “coming team”, meaning they have been steadily improving. They have played three Test series this autumn, simulating the environment they expect to face over the weekend.
They posted a series wins against USA ranked 13th and Chile ranked 18th, a series tie against Spain ranked 7th and a loss against Belgium, ranked 12th in the world.
Ireland have zip in Anna O’Flanaghan, Nicci Daly and Chloe Watkins, they have experience in who other than Shirley McCay, who will win her 300th cap, and they have belief in their goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran, voted the best goalkeeper at the World Cup last year.
Added to that mix are the younger players twins Serena and Bethany Barr and Sarah Hawkshaw, which gives Dancer his sought-after balance within the team. Some of those have come within a shootout of an Olympic Games before. There is some baggage.
“For the group, they have a big picture in their mind about what they are trying to achieve,” said Dancer. “And will certainly not have fear of what has happened in the past.”