By Stephen Findlater
The Olympic Federation of Ireland formally announced the Irish women’s panel to travel to the Tokyo for the Olympic Games with 16 players and three travelling reserves confirmed.
The side will fly out to Japan on July 9 ahead of their debut on this stage on July 24 against South Africa at the Oi Stadium.
Over 20 months since qualification was confirmed, captain Katie Mullan says this day brings about a realisation of many years hard work, not just of those who have their Olympic dream move closer, but also from the wider panel who helped push the standards.
“With competition in our squad at its best and only 16 spots available, we always knew this was going to be the toughest selection,” Mullan said.
“31 players have played a massive role in our preparations over the past 10 months and we are honoured to represent the Green Army at the Olympic games.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work put in by the girls and each of them deserve this opportunity. It’s an exciting time for us and our families.”
Speaking about the selection, Irish head coach Sean Dancer agreed it was the selection panel’s hardest decision yet but he is excited about the possibilities his line-up brings to the table.
“It has been a tough time to get it right,” Dancer said “I really feel we have picked a great balance of senior players and experience and then adding in the excitement and opportunity of youth.
“Once we get to the Olympics, it will be just about playing hockey and making the most of the opportunities that come from it.”
There was an extra layer to selection with only 16 spots available for the Olympics compared to the usual 18 that would be available for a world ranking tournament.
“Going from 18 to 16 adds an extra complexity to it and the team hasn’t been in that position before. We have to consider those extra little things people contribute to the team and weighing that up was certainly tough.
“Versatility is really important when you get down to 16, even to the point of getting someone to fill the goalkeeper role in case there is an injury [to Ayeisha McFerran].
“If there is an injury during the game or just before it, you can’t bring in a replacement so we would have to bring in one of the field players. Even things like that need to be considered. We do have a couple who are able and willing which is the first thing we need.”
The panel features 11 of the panel that played in the 2018 World Cup run to silver: Ayeisha McFerran, Chloe Watkins, Hannah Matthews, Nicci Daly, Róisín Upton, Deirdre Duke, Katie Mullan, Shirley McCay, Lena Tice, Lizzie Holden and Anna O’Flanagan.
All also featured in June’s EuroHockey Championships as did Hannah McLoughlin, Naomi Carroll, Sarah Hawkshaw and Sarah McAuley.
For defender McAuley, it continues her rapid rise to prominence since linking up with the panel in the spring and making her formal international debut in the last game of the Euros against Italy.
Sarah Torrans, meanwhile, gets her chance to make a senior international tournament debut. The speedster was initially named in the Euros panel but missed out through injury but is in line now to link up with the side.
Ireland can bring a number of travelling reserves to the event with Michelle Carey and Zara Malseed waiting in the wings for the outfield spots while Lizzie Murphy is the goalkeeping cover. They can potentially step in if there are injuries within the main panel.
What it means is, from the European squad, Nikki Evans and Megan Frazer are the ones to narrowly miss out on selection.
“We have gone for the option of Sarah Torrans coming back into the group,” Dancer said of the line-up. “She was performing well before the Europeans. No fault of her own, she wasn’t able to go through injury so when we cut back the numbers, Nikki Evans – with all her experience and incredible contributions to the team – was the unfortunate one to miss out.
“Sarah McAuley has impressed since coming into our environment as early as February and the first GB series. She got the opportunity to play that last Italian game [at the Euros] and she showed mobility, comfort on the ball and certainly showed she is willing to mix it with the senior girls.
“She has a very exciting career ahead of her and it is an exciting time for her. She does have minimal experience but sometimes that is the best way to approach it; she doesn’t have that eight of expectation and can just go out there and play and that’s what we hope she does.”
As for the historical context, Dancer is fully aware of the significance of this final run-in to a maiden Olympic appearance for an Irish women’s team, something he says the team will not take for granted.
“Ireland’s senior women have had a long history and everybody that has gone before, in this group and previously, has made a huge contribution to where we are now. That really needs to be acknowledged; we will be at the Olympics, doing it for all of them and the long history that has gone before.”
Ireland women’s squad for Olympic Games – July 24-August 4, 2021, Oi Stadium, Tokyo, Japan (club/caps):
Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong, 105) – goalkeeper
Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute, 115)
Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins, 201)
Nicci Daly (Loreto, 194)
Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union, 38)
Hannah Matthews (Loreto, 152)
Shirley McCay (Pegasus, 311)
Hannah McLoughlin (UCD, 19)
Katie Mullan (Ballymoney, 198) – captain
Anna O’Flanagan (Muckross, 212) – vice-captain
Lena Tice (Old Alex, 114)
Sarah Torrans (Loreto, 26)
Roisin Upton (Catholic Institute, 81)
Chloe Watkins (Monkstown, 229)
Deirdre Duke (Old Alex, 146)
Sarah McAuley (Muckross, 1)
Lizzie Murphy (Loreto, 13) – goalkeeper
Michelle Carey (UCD, 5)
Zara Malseed (Ards, 2)