The Irish women’s hockey team will make their long awaited return to the World Cup stage this July in London, and today head coach Graham Shaw has named his panel of 18 players that will don the green jersey against the world’s best teams.
Speaking at the announcement, Shaw said “There were some difficult calls when selecting this World Cup squad, and that is a testament to the quality and depth we have in the larger panel. 2002 was the last time an Irish hockey team was present at a World Cup so we are very proud to be representing Ireland at the showcase event of our sport. But we are entirely focused on the task at hand and our first goal is to get out of the Pool; it will be tough given the calibre of the 3 teams in Pool B with us but that is what a World Cup is about, and we have a belief in our ability and know what we are capable of”.
The Green Army sit in Pool B alongside hosts England, currently occupying the number 2 spot in the world, USA who sit at 7th and India ranked 10th. Indeed Ireland go into the tournament ranked 16th in the world and are seeded 15 out of the 16 teams. But they are a side more than capable of playing above their ranking and routinely do so, most recently beating Olympic bronze medallists Germany 2-1 in Dusseldorf.
The side’s first match of the tournament takes place on July 21st at 6pm against the USA, a traditionally physical side and renowned for their fitness in world hockey. Jackie Briggs in the US goal has been in fine form over the last 12 months, playing a crucial role at World League in Johannesburg as she helped her side to victory in penalty shootouts over both England and Germany. Equally Melissa Gonzalez is always one to watch for America, she took over the captaincy when Lauren Crandall retired and is a constant threat with her power and pace. But Ayeisha McFerran in the Irish goal is equally proficient when it comes to shoot-outs and the experience of Shirley McCay, Ireland’s most capped female athlete, combined with the cool head of Zoe Wilson will be used to the threat the Americans pose, as the sides meet almost annually for a match series.
India come next, on Thursday July 26th at 2pm, and offer a different challenge entirely. The sides met in a crucial 7th/8th playoff tie at World League in Johannesburg last summer with the Green Army coming from a goal down to claim a 2-1 victory thanks to a stunning goal from Lizzie Colvin. But India have won the Asia Cup since then, beating higher ranked China in the final, and have had a couple of different coaches with Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne returning to the helm of the women’s squad following a period with the men’s team. They place a big emphasis on Savita in goal and their captain Rani for some creativity but the Green Army may well have the upper hand when it comes to skill and speed courtesy of Nicci Daly and Gillian Pinder.
Hosts England are the final Pool B opponent for Ireland on Sunday July 29th at 7pm. Much can be made of the Olympic gold medallists and they retain a large portion of that history making team from Rio. But it was just 12 months ago that saw England snatch a victory over Ireland by only a single goal and they will be under pressure as hosts, having not made it to the European final as expected last August. Maddie Hinch is rightly the goalie of the moment and she will be tough to get past but the ever-threatening Anna O’Flanagan has beaten her before and combining her eye for goal with the determination of Nikki Evans will certainly test the English defence. It will be crucial for the Irish midfield, particularly utilising the experience of Chloe Watkins, to get the ball into the circle for the forwards. Katie Mullan, captaining the side, is adept at picking up the ball and bulldozing her way into dangerous areas and if penalty corners come then the Green Army are blessed with two talented drag flickers in the forms of Roisin Upton and Megan Frazer.
The winners of each pool progress straight through to the quarterfinal and the bottom placed team goes home. The second placed team in Pool B will play off against the third placed team in Pool A, and the third placed team in Pool B will play against the second placed team in Pool A.