The green machine

Ireland unveil squad for first World Cup appearance in 16 years at London 2018

Excitement builds as Graham Shaw’s side begin their final preparations for a landmark tournament.

THESE ARE PARTICULARLY heady times for Irish hockey, and at the headquarters of a new primary sponsor — proudly displaying its association with the team in the form of a large poster adorning the building’s facade — Graham Shaw announced the names of 18 players who will fulfil a long-term ambition next month.

The Ireland Women's Hockey Team at today's announcement The Ireland squad ahead of July's World Cup. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Sixteen years after a last appearance at the Women’s World Cup, Ireland will return to the exalted stage for a fourth time in London next month, infused with the belief that they can follow in the footsteps of the men’s side, defy expectations and use the tournament as a springboard for further progress.

The agonising heartbreak of missing out on the 2016 Olympics seemed a distant memory on Tuesday morning, as a previously intangible dream became very real, but at the same time the lessons learned from previous near-misses — most notably qualification for Rio — have been crucial in forging a strong bond within the dressing room along this two-and-a-half-year journey.

Ireland, currently ranked 16th in the world, are under no illusions of the size of the task ahead, with Shaw’s side paired in a formidably-challenging pool alongside hosts England, USA and India.

But the objective is clear — “We are going there to get out of the group and into the knockout stages,” Shaw declared, as he officially announced the squad of players which will represent Ireland, and scale new heights with the women’s national team, at Softco’s HQ.

The head coach continued: “It will be tough given the calibre of the 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 inclusion of captain Megan Frazer, who returns after an 18-month absence with a knee injury, is a notable boost for Ireland, although doubts remain over the fitness of the 126-time capped midfielder, meaning UCD’s Katie Mullan retains the armband.

There is an exciting blend of youth and experience in the panel, a combination which has proved successful during Shaw’s time in charge and seen Ireland beat a number of higher-ranked nations, including last week’s win over Germany.

A number of players are coming off the back of strong seasons in professional hockey in Germany and Holland, and the big-game nous of the likes of Chloe Watkins, Nikki Evans and Anna O’Flanagan will be an important asset for Ireland.

Graham Shaw (Head Coach) Ireland head coach Graham Shaw at today's press conference. Inpho Inpho

The pool opener against USA on Saturday 21 July has the potential to be a campaign-defining fixture, with victory there providing Ireland with a real launchpad ahead of the sterner tests against India (26 July) and then England (29 July).

The winners of each pool progress straight through to the quarter-final stage, while the second and third-placed teams advance to the playoffs.

While excitement will now build ahead of Ireland’s clash with USA at the 15,000-capacity Lee Valley Stadium at the end of next month, Shaw was keen to put on record how difficult a selection process it was, adding his commiseration to the players who had played just as much of a part in the qualification process but narrowly, and cruelly, missed out on a place in the final panel.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Four players –  Sarah Torrans, Sinead Loughran, Naomi Carroll and Emily Beatty — have been named as reserves.

Ireland World Cup squad:

  • Ayeisha McFerran (University of Louisville)
  • Grace O’Flanagan (Railway Union)
  • Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins)
  • Hannah Matthews (Loreto)
  • Elena Tice (UCD)
  • Zoe Wilson (Belfast Harlequins)
  • Roisin Upton (Cork Harlequins)
  • Shirley McCay (Pegasus)
  • Katie Mullan (UCD)(captain)
  • Nicci Daly (Loreto)
  • Gillian Pinder (Pembroke)
  • Megan Frazer (Mannheim)
  • Chloe Watkins (Bloemendaal)
  • Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins)
  • Deirdre Duke (UCD)
  • Nicola Evans (UHC)
  • Ali Meeke (Loreto)
  • Anna O’Flanagan (Bloemendaal)

Ireland World Cup fixtures:

(All games live on BT Sport)

Saturday 21 July:

  • USA v Ireland, Lee Valley Stadium, 6pm

Thursday 26 July:

  • India v Ireland, Lee Valley Stadium, 2pm

Sunday 29 July:

  • England v Ireland, Lee Valley Stadium, 7pm

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