Having promised after the team qualified for the Olympics last November that the door would be left open for players who missed out on the squad for those games against Canada, Irish coach Seán Dancer has been as good as his word.
In all, nine players who didn’t make that panel have been given the chance since then to stake their claim for a place on the flight to Tokyo, giving hope to those still with aspirations to break in to the squad.
Emma Buckley and Emily Beatty were called up for last month's trip to South Africa but, while they miss out this time, UCD pair Ellen Curran and Hannah McLoughlin and Loreto's Sarah Torrans retain their places for next month's South African visit. They are joined in the squad by the experienced trio of Ali Meeke, Megan Frazer, and Naomi Carroll who have over 300 caps between them.
Meeke, having been one of Ireland’s stars at the World Cup in London, missed out on selection for the Canada games but has been recalled along with Frazer and Carroll who both return after lengthy battles with injury. And teenager Ellie McLoughlin has been rewarded by Dancer for her fine form in goal for Muckross with her first senior call-up.
When the squad returns from Durban in early April, having played a series of matches against their hosts, Japan and China, the Chinese might provide the opposition again in a four-match series in Belfast later in the month. Hockey Ireland, though, say those games are only “provisionally scheduled”, and if they were to go ahead “it remains to be confirmed whether all are going to be capped and whether any take place behind closed doors”.
As many as 17 of Dancer’s latest squad could be in Hockey League action this weekend, although Shirley McCay is currently recovering from a broken toe which resulted in her missing Pegasus’ defeat by Catholic Institute in Limerick last Saturday.
Pegasus had wanted that game postponed because they had just 12 players available, Niamh McIvor and Charlotte Beggs not permitted to play because they had featured in the Irish under-18 games against England earlier in the week.
“We always knew it was going to be tough to go to Limerick and get a result against a well-organised Catholic Institute side, who deserved their win, however, given that we had five players unavailable due to a combination of injury and enforced rest, it certainly made the task more difficult,” a frustrated Pegasus coach Greg Thompson told the Belfast Telegraph. “A postponement was completely ruled out as we were told on the Tuesday before the game.”
The defeat saw Pegasus replaced at the top of the table by Old Alexandra and they face another tricky away game this weekend with Pembroke Wanderers their opponents at Serpentine Avenue. Alexandra host Cork Harlequins while third-placed Loreto are at home to Institute.
Hockey League – Division One – Saturday: Belfast Harlequins v Railway Union, Deramore Park, 2.30; Loreto v Catholic Institute, Beaufort, 1.15; Old Alexandra v Cork Harlequins, Milltown, 2.30; Pembroke Wanderers v Pegasus, Serpentine Avenue, 2.30; UCD v Muckross, Belfield, 2.50.