New Ireland women’s head coach Sean Dancer won’t have long to wait before taking over the reins in a competitive environment with confirmation that Scotland are to visit Stormont for three internationals next month.
The games, scheduled for the east Belfast venue on July 13, 15 and 16, will form part of the preparation for the European Championship in Antwerp in August.
Then Ireland will take part in the final eliminator for a place in next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo following their second place finish at the FIH Hockey series event in Banbridge at the weekend.
Despite losing 3-1 to Korea in the final, Ireland are expected to have home advantage – based on their world ranking – in the two-legged qualifier to be held on a Saturday and Sunday in either late October or early November.
Scotland missed out on a predicted meeting with Ireland in the semi-finals at Havelock Park after falling to a penalty shoot-out defeat to the Czech Republic and eventually finished fifth. Coached by former Coleraine, Ulster Under-21 and South Africa striker Jennifer Wilson, the Scots will be using the Irish games as preparation for their second-tier European bid in Glasgow in August.
There is also the possibility that a couple of games against Italy will be staged in Ireland ahead of the trip to Antwerp where Dancer’s team have already arranged two build up games against their Belgian hosts, who are in the other pool at the Euros.
Although Ireland might have preferred tougher opposition with games against England and Germany along with Belarus to come in the group stages in Belgium, Dancer will be able to use the series to help implement the attacking style he has pledged to bring to the table.
The 44-year-old Australian, who was in interim charge of New Zealand women before swapping places with former Ireland coach Graham Shaw, believes Ireland can go even higher than their current world ranking of eighth.
He said: “There are teams constantly pushing and changing in those rankings but I think Ireland need to be very confident in the position they are in at the moment.”
“It’s an excellent achievement but for me, it’s not where they need to be, they can still progress and go further.”
“If the team gets to the Olympics, then eighth doesn’t need to be the target, we need to be aiming higher and I don’t think there should be any lack of confidence that we can’t get there.”
Dancer, who has taken over the post from interim boss Gareth Grundie, will be working with the same 24 players that were in the panel which was reduced to 18 for the FIH Hockey series.
Nine Ulster players are in the mix, including the six that won World Cup silver medals in London last August, along with Bethany Barr, who made her tournament debut at Banbridge, her twin sister Serena and Chloe Brown.
Former Ards player Brown, now with East Grinstead, received a late call up to the squad for the FIH series semi-final and final after Megan Frazer had to pull out due to a knee injury.