Bethany Barr is on cloud nine after being named in the Ireland women’s hockey squad for the first stage of the qualification process for the Tokyo Olympics which gets under way in Banbridge next Saturday.
Her inclusion, at the expense of World Cup silver medallist Yvonne O’Byrne, who has been dropped, caps off a memorable year for the former Lurgan player, who is one of seven Ulster women in the squad.
The 23-year-old defender spent four years on a hockey scholarship in the United States before returning home to play for UCD last summer. She had a superb season in Dublin and has earned her place in the squad after making her senior international debut only a few months ago.
All six of the local players who competed at the World Cup last August in London have, as expected, been retained for the tournament.
Barr will therefore be joined by team captain Katie Mullan, Shirley McCay, Zoe Wilson, Megan Frazer, Lizzie Colvin and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran in the 18-strong panel.
However, along with Cork woman O’Byrne, Nikki Evans, who also played in London, misses out to be replaced by Railway Union’s Sarah Hawkshaw.
Munster goalkeeper Emma Buckley also comes into the squad as back up to McFerran following the retirement of Grace O’Flanagan after the World Cup.
Former Ards player Chloe Brown, now with East Grinstead, has been named as one of two injury-cover reserves along with Evans.
Ireland interim head coach Gareth Grundie said:”Selection has been really difficult which means there has been healthy competition for places throughout the recent training block, which is great to see.”
“With the girls having missed out on Rio three years ago they are determined to make it to Tokyo and we are all really looking forward to the tournament in Banbridge.”
“Although we are seeded to win it, it’s certainly not going to be easy and all the other teams will be keen to get a pop at the World Cup silver medallists.”
Ireland, who are ranked eighth in the world following their unprecedented success in London, are up against Malaysia, Czech Republic and Singapore initially, needing a top-two finish overall to progress to the final eliminator for Tokyo.
World Cup captain Mullan added: “As we take our first step towards Olympic qualification, the 18 players selected for this FIH Hockey Series represent the 43 Green Army squad members who started this journey.
“We’re really excited for this home tournament and hope to play in front of a large Irish crowd. The World Cup was a starting point for us, and we’re keen to continue on this journey and stay in the top 10 in the world.”
“This tournament is an opportunity to show where we are.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Hockey talent coach Shirley McCay scored a rare goal from open play as Ireland’s women continued their build up for their Olympic qualifying bid with a comfortable 4-1 win over India’s Under 21s at Serpentine Avenue on Tuesday evening.
The country’s most-capped female sports star struck in the second half, scoring one of Ireland’s three goals after the break, having been moved into a more advanced role than usual as interim head coach Gareth Grundie used the game to experiment.
Former Ards boss Grundie felt the game was a useful exercise as the national team prepares for the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process, which gets under way with a game against Malaysia in Banbridge on Saturday week.
He said: “It was good to get a game against Asian opposition as they employ a different style and are a little more direct, so we expect a similar test against Malaysia.”
Chloe Watkins broke the deadlock after seven minutes when she finished off a flowing move with a tap-in at the far post. India equalised against the run of play shortly before half-time when Sharmila Dev beat Ayeisha McFerran.
Anna O’Flanagan made it 2-1 with a deflected effort and then Pegasus player McCay added number three. O’Flanagan wrapped things up with her second and Ireland’s fourth from a penalty corner near the end.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Under-21s continued their build up for this weekend’s Four Nations tournament in Dublin with a win and a draw against their Canadian counterparts.
Queen’s striker Jessica McMaster his two of the goals in a 3-0 opening victory with Michele Carey also on target. In the second game, Siofra Murdock grabbed a late equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw.
India and Scotland will also be taking part in the quadrangular tournament as Ireland prepare for the European Junior Championship in Valencia in July.
Irish Women’s Squad – FIH World Series
|2||Emma Buckley (GK)|
|10||Ayeisha McFerran (GK)|