Shaw Reveals Match Schedule As Green Army Prepare For World Cup
2018 is already lining up to be one of the biggest years in recent memory for the Irish women’s hockey team as they firmly set their sights on the World Cup in London this Summer (July 21st – August 5th). But preparation for the showpiece event starts long before, and head coach Graham Shaw has scheduled 7 match series over the course of the next 7 months.
The first of those match series comes in early February against Spain in Benalmadena (fixtures listed at bottom of article). The Spanish sit 11th in the world and consistently knock on that top 10 door. The two sides play each other regularly; no fewer than 11 times in the last 2 years, with Spain having won 8 of those encounters. The series will act as an important litmus test for Shaw as he will be looking to pick his large World Cup squad from that extended panel shortly after.
A month later the Green Army will travel to Glasgow to play 2 matches against Scotland. This fixture again typically proves tight with the sides sharing the spoils in a 0-0 clash at the Eurohockey Championships in August, before picking up 1 win each and a draw at a match series in Belfast in October. Less than a week later, the team will be back on a plane and this time headed to Bisham Abbey to play the England. It will prove to be a challenging but highly valuable test for the squad as England sit in Pool B with them at the World Cup. The two teams don’t tend to meet often at major events but last Summer bucked that trend as England ran out 3-2 and 4-1 victors over the Green Army at World League and the Eurohockey Championships respectively. The teams will meet again in June at Lee Valley in London for another series with the World Cup within touching distance the following month. Commenting on the fixtures, Shaw said “The opportunity to play the world number 2 is invaluable training for us before a World Cup. Playing in Lee Valley and getting to essentially do a trial run with regards accommodation and transport, as well as playing on the new World Cup pitch, is going to be great preparation for us”.
The final away series for the Green Army comes in the form of a trip to Germany to face the world number 6. The side have had to fast adapt to life without their former head coach Jamilon Mulders who has moved on to pastures new with China after a highly successful tenure. But they are still a formidable force and showed their calibre in a 5-1 victory over the Irish at the European Championships at the end of an intense summer of international hockey. However, the Green Army will be confident of recapturing the form that saw them claim a 2-2 draw (at World League Johannesburg) and an historic 2-1 victory over the Germans in the months prior to the Europeans. In fact, that 2-2 draw at World League in Johannesburg could well have been another 2-1 victory but for a last second penalty corner goal by FIH Rising Star of the Year nominee Nike Lorenz. “Germany are top level opposition, highlighted by their bronze medal the Rio Olympics. They’re a very strong side, very well organised and structured, and we learnt a lot from playing them last year. It’s a good opportunity to not only play 3 games against top level opposition, but to also spend time as a group” said Shaw.
The side return to home shores in the run up to the World Cup and will play host to several teams around the country in July. A 3-match series against Japan will begin on July 4th in Cork, before 2 further matches against the world number 12 in Dublin on July 6th and 7th. Ireland last faced Japan in the opener of the World League Semi Finals, a tight encounter that ended 1-1.
Hot on the heels of that series, comes an invitational 3 Nations against Italy and Chile due to take place from July 10th-14th, venue to be confirmed. Chile have recently leap-frogged the Green Army and moved from 20th to 15th in the world rankings, following their second place finish in the Pan American Cup. That finish is made all the more impressive given Chile had to beat USA, ranked 6th at the time, in the semi-finals. Italy sits one spot below Ireland in the rankings and there was little to split the two sides in a 2015 series in Belfast with 2 draws and a victory to Ireland. The side are looking forward to playing at home ahead of the World Cup says Shaw “It’s important to us to try play international matches around the country, playing in Cork is a great opportunity to give the World Cup squad the experience of playing in front of a home crowd before departing for London. “