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'We cover as many 'what ifs' as possible' - Ireland women's hockey out to avoid men's Olympic agony

Sean Dancer’s side welcome Canada this weekend with a ticket to Tokyo on the line.

IRELAND WOMEN’S HOCKEY coach Sean Dancer says his side have addressed as many match-based scenarios as possible in their bid to avoid the heartache suffered by their male counterparts at the weekend. 

elena-tice-gillian-pinder-anna-oflanagan-sarah-hawkshaw-and-hannah-matthews Some of the Ireland players at the official announcement of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers Squad. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Ireland men missed out on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics following a controversial defeat to Canada which was decided by a shootout. 

The two-legged clash in Canada finished 6-6 on aggregate, with the hosts earning a dubious penalty stroke in the final moments of normal time on the back of a video referral by Canada.

They levelled proceedings and forced a shootout where they subsequently snatched the ticket to Tokyo and left Mark Tumilty’s side heartbroken.

The Ireland women’s team have also endured such heartache in the past and will attempt to reach the Olympics for the first time this weekend when they take on the same opposition over two legs at Energia Park in Donnybrook.

They’ve been working through a variety of game situations throughout a simulation week, and Dancer is confident they’ll be prepared for whatever surprises that might unfold during the battle against Canada.

“We just try and cover off as many of those ‘what ifs’ as possible,” says Dancer of Ireland’s efforts during simulation week.

“So, winning the game with a couple of minutes to go, losing the game with a couple of minutes to go.

Some of the questions around video referral – do you refer, do you not refer? You’re never going to get to cover them all off which is obviously clear. But certainly, we just try and put ourselves the best position possible.”

Remarking on how they can use the men’s defeat on Sunday as motivation for Canada’s arrival, Dancer continued:

“I suppose you need to take out the positives and [imagine] we are behind with a couple of minutes to go, we know there’s going to be opportunities to stay in it. For us, the simulation week offered opportunities for us to talk about things and work through things.

“We’ll be under no illusion, with a couple of minutes to go if we’re winning the game, we still have to keep playing.”

The World Cup silver medalists will face Canada on a roll-out pitch in Energia Park this weekend where the two sides will play on a Polytan Carpet surface. A similar project was carried out at the Twickenham Stoop earlier this year for Great Britain’s FIH Pro League women’s and men’s matches against New Zealand.

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Installing the roll-out pitch at the 6,000-capacity venue begins this week and Dancer reports that construction is going well, with a training session scheduled for the Green Army before the Canada showdown over Saturday and Sunday.

“We just want to get out there and play now,” says Dancer. “The sooner it comes around for us, the better.

From what I hear and see, it seems the stadium is starting to kick along so we’ve actually got some of the parents and partners volunteering to help. I certainly think it will be in good hands.

“We haven’t seen it at all yet, we’ve just seen some photos.

 ”We’re booked in for later in the week once the turf’s down and finished.”

a-view-of-energia-park-ahead-of-the-game A general view of Energia Park. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ireland fell short of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, but Dancer insists his side are “not going to fear what’s happened in the past,” as another opportunity to make history rolls around again.

Megan Frazer is still unavailable through injury, but Ireland have no fresh absentees as Serena Barr comes in to make her tournament debut while World Cup star Ali Meeke misses out on selection.

“It’s certainly a positive playing at home,” says an excited Dancer, “and having 6,000 people all supporting us and cheering as loud as they can.

They’re a great group of girls to work with. We’ve certainly been progressing well and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far.”

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