Women’s Hockey: Dancer names 18-strong panel for European Championships
Ireland grouped with England, Germany and Belarus for event in Antwerp
Railway Union’s Sarah Hawkshaw has been named in the Ireland panel for the upcoming European Championships in Antwerp. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Inpho/Presseye
A year on from their World Cup odyssey in London, 15 of the 18 players who won silver in that tournament have been named by Sean Dancer in his squad for the European Championships which get under way in Antwerp for Ireland next Sunday with a pool game against England.
Bethany Barr, Sarah Hawkshaw and goalkeeper Liz Murphy take the places of Megan Frazer, Yvonne O’Byrne and Grace O’Flanagan. Frazer is struck yet again by injury, this time to her knee, while work commitments had resulted in O’Flanagan stepping away from the international set-up last year. Also unavailable for selection was Chloe Brown, the former Ards player now with East Grinstead in the English Premiership, work pressures making it impossible for her too to commit to the panel for what will be a hectic few months.
The chief goal for the year is, of course, Olympic qualification, and while that is the prize for the winners of the European Championships, with four nations ranked above them in the tournament Ireland’s more realistic route to Tokyo 2020 is through the qualifier they will play later in the year. The identity of their opponents will be known next month after the completion of the various continental championships.
The focus for now, though, is on Antwerp where Ireland, ranked eight in the world, have been drawn in a pool with the English (ranked four), Germany (five) and Belarus (22). Pool A is made up of defending champions the Netherlands, the world’s top ranked nation, Spain (seven), Belgium (nine) and tournament outsiders Russia (23).
Ayeisha McFerran, who has struggled with a quad injury in the build-up to the tournament, will play her club hockey in the Dutch league next season after securing a move to Kampong having graduated from the University of Louisville. It’s precisely the opportunity the 23-year-old was hoping for having made her name at the World Cup where she was voted goalkeeper of the tournament.
Dancer will hope that McFerran is fit to face England on Saturday, after which Ireland play Belarus on Monday and the Germans on Wednesday week before the tournament enters the cross-over phase. The final takes place on Saturday week.
IRELAND (squad for European Championships): A McFerran (Kampong, Netherlands), E Murphy, N Daly, H Matthews, A Meeke (all Loreto), B Barr, E Colvin (both Belfast Harlequins), R Upton (Catholic Institute), N Evans (Hamburg), K Mullan (capt, Ballymoney), S McCay (Pegasus), E Tice (UCD), G Pinder (Pembroke Wanderers), C Watkins (Monkstown), S Hawkshaw (Railway Union), A O’Flanagan (Muckross), Z Wilson (Randalstown), D Duke (Dusseldorf).