Ireland’s women take on Scotland in three-game hockey series

Sean Dancer takes formal charge of Ireland this weekend as they begin preparations for November’s Olympic qualifiers

Sean Dancer: the Australian takes  over the Ireland reins full time this weekend. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Sean Dancer: the Australian takes over the Ireland reins full time this weekend. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Sean Dancer’s long-range preparations for November’s Olympic qualifiers kick into gear this weekend when Ireland’s women take on Scotland in a three-game series in Stormont.

It will be his first games in formal charge of Ireland having worked primarily in a support role at last month’s run to FIH Series Finals silver in Banbridge, working with interim coach Gareth Grundie.

Now the Australian has taken over the reins full time, and has a 22-player panel selected for the series which starts with a behind closed doors tie on Saturday at 7pm, before an open to the public game on Sunday at 4pm. The final tie is scheduled for Tuesday.

Nikki Evans, Yvonne O’Byrne and Emily Beatty all missed out on selection last month, but they come back in alongside Serena Barr, who joins her twin sister Bethany in the line-up. Chloe Brown is not involved this time.

It begins a hectic spell with further games against Italy and Belgium on the agenda, before August’s European Championships in Antwerp.

After that fixtures are on the cards for both September and October, leading into the qualifiers which are set for November 2nd and 3rd provisionally.

Who Ireland play there remains to be seen, but barring some bizarre results in the continental championships they will be at home.

Where that will be will also be confirmed in due course, but members of the panel did train at the relaid pitch in UCD this week. With accompanying upgrades for television purposes also taking place at Belfield, it would likely be the preferred site.

At the moment the potential opponent for the qualifier looks likely to come from a group of China, Korea, USA and Chile.

Five-team group

Elsewhere, the Under-21 European Championships get under way this weekend, with the women in the top tier in Valencia in an expanded five-team group featuring Russia – who they play on Saturday evening (4.45pm, Irish time) – the Netherlands, Spain and France.

Ireland stayed up two years ago by virtue of a cancelled game against the Spaniards whose panel were struck by an infectious virus. It meant no side was relegated, leading to the bigger format, with Dave Passmore’s side needing to finish in the top two of a five-team group to reach the semi-finals.

His side features seven players from the 2017 vintage, while six have senior international caps already.

Yet Passmore knows his side have a huge task ahead of them, especially with three teams relegated. A strong finish could earn a Junior World Cup spot.

“There will be no easy matches in this pool,” he said. “Obviously Netherlands will be the clear favourites, although I have been very impressed with the quality of the Spanish team in recent matches.

“France have 15 of the team who were so competitive in the Banbridge FIH Series, and eight of the Russian team played for their seniors in Japan last month. That said, if we can fine-tune our finishing we can match any team on our day.”

The Irish Under-21 men are in the Czech Republic where they face Belarus on Sunday in the first of their games in the second tier of Europe.

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