After over 20 months preparation, the Irish women’s hockey team must hit the ground running at June’s European Championships in the Netherlands as they face World Champions and hosts in their opening game next month.
It is the first phase of a huge summer for the team culminating in the Tokyo Olympic Games with the Euros doubling up as a key preparation tournament for the Games and also providing three potential 2022 World Cup places.
Head coach Sean Dancer and his squad go into the eight-team event at Amstelveen's Wagener Stadium, bidding for a first ever semi-final spot.
Ireland meets the world number one side the Netherlands on June 5th in a rematch of the 2018 World Cup final. On June 7th, Ireland face Scotland before closing out the group stages on June 9th against Spain.
Injury issues have forced Zoe Wilson and Barr twins Serena and Bethany to sit out the summer allowing several new faces to break into the squad. Rising UCD star Michelle Carey is set to make her formal capped international debut when Ireland take the field against the Dutch.
A product of Railway Union, she has been an ever-present at training camps in Spain, Belfast and England and is one of three players making their first appearance in a world ranking event.
Loreto's Sarah Torrans gets her chance having been on the list of reserves for the 2018 World Cup while UCD's Hannah McLoughlin has also impressed coach Sean Dancer in defence in recent series against Great Britain and Scotland.
Cratloe native Naomi Carroll will play her first capped match since the summer of 2018, having taken the long road back from an ACL injury, sustained playing ladies football for Clare. Since then, she was part of the rejuvenated Irish indoor hockey side in 2020 before earning her recall to the senior outdoor setup.
The travelling squad of 18 features 12 of the 2018 World Cup silver medal-winning side including Ayeisha McFerran, Lizzie Colvin, Nicci Daly, Nikki Evans, Megan Frazer Hannah Matthews, Shirley McCay, Katie Mullan, Anna O'Flanagan, Lena Tice, Roisin Upton, Sarah Hawkshaw and Chloe Watkins, who bring a wealth of experience to the table.
A number of established faces will hit major milestones during the tournament. Nikki Evans is two caps shy of her 200th international outing with Lizzie Colvin also hitting that mark if she plays four matches in the competition, while Hannah Matthews is three caps away from 150 appearances.
Due to Covid-19 concerns, the European Hockey Federation has allowed a further two players to join the panel as "travelling reserves" in addition to the initial panel of 18. Deirdre Duke will offer cover for midfield and forward lines while uncapped Muckross player Sarah McAuley is defensive cover.
World Cup qualification for Ireland is certain if the team finishes in the top three. Currently, Spain and the Netherlands are already pre-qualified. Should either or both of those sides finish in the medal positions, which is likely, fourth or fifth place could provide a World Cup ticket.
“I will enjoy watching the experienced players controlling our play in combination with the excitement of our young players such as Michelle Carey and Hannah McLoughlin,” said Dancer
“The European Championships is a major tournament with ramifications for next year’s World Cup. We have made our objectives very clear and will push hard as a group towards them.”
Ireland women’s squad (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)
Tournament details (all times Irish)
Group A (world rank): Netherlands (1st), Spain (7th), Ireland (8th), Scotland (22nd)
Group B: Germany (4th), England (5th), Belgium (12th), Italy (17th)
Irish fixture schedule
June 5th, 2021: Ireland v Netherlands, 2.30pm
June 7th, 2021: Ireland v Scotland, 11.30am
June 9th, 2021: Ireland v Spain, 11.30am
June 11th 2021: Semi-finals/relegation pool
June 12th/13th: Medal matches/relegation pool