Symmons and Daly return for Irish Challenge

Loreto’s Nikki Symmons and Nicci Daly are the two returnees to the Irish team following head coach Gene Muller’s announcement of the 18-player panel for next week’s Champion’s Challenge.

Indeed, it could be a landmark occasion for Symmons who, if she stays injury free, could surpass the 150-cap mark during the tournament.

The Loreto pair were unavailable for selection for last weekend’s Celtic Cup and will also be absent from training this weekend as they represent their club in Lille in the EuroHockey Club Champion’s Challenge II.

Daly and Symmons will be free of club concerns from Tuesday and take the place of Hannah Bowe – sister of rugby international Tommy – and UCC’s Miriam Crowley in the Irish squad.

A young panel with an average age of 23.8, there is plenty of experience to go around with Michelle Harvey (22) and Lizzie Colvin (21) could both pass the half-century of caps.

Jean McDonnell, one of the side’s late bloomers, has maintained her place following a blistering start to her international career with five goals in eight appearances to date.

Speaking about his selection, Muller was pleased with how his side came through the Celtic Cup last weekend despite the setback against Scotland in the closing stages.

“We are very lucky that our team are all fit and playing well. These players will be eager to do well at this tournament as there are EuroHockey Nations tournament positions at stake,” he said.

The event itself gets underway on June 18 in the National Hockey Stadium in Belfield, a nine-day world ranking tournament which pits Ireland against Azerbaijan , India , Spain , Japan , Scotland , South Africa and the USA .

The Irish U-18 panel, meanwhile, was released this week with eight of the 2010 Home Nations winners around for a second year as they build toward their European championships.

Leinster duo Lisa McCarthy and Emily Beatty are back for another series while Emma Russell has previously lined out at this age group, too. Aisling Naughton completes the blues contingent in the selection with Erika Hinkson and Kate Lloyd waiting in the wings as reserves at this stage.

There is a first Irish call-up for the Hague-based Katie Froeling who qualifies for Ireland by virtue of her mother who hails from Carlow. She was unavailable for interprovincial selection earlier this season but has been present for each subsequent Irish training session and possesses a useful overhead and can also provide a presence up front.

Irish soccer star Dora Gorman is available for the tournament while Youth Olympians Jenna Holmes, Amy-Kate Trevor and Leah Ewart bring international experience as do Catholic Institute double winners Rebecca Barry and Roisin Upton.

Ireland squad for Champions Challenge I, Dublin, June 18-26: Emma Gray (GK, Hermes, 22 caps), Pamela Smithwick (GK, Old Alex, 3); Michelle Harvey (Pegasus, 49), Cliodhna Sargent (Cork Harlequins, 77), Emma Smyth (Railway Union, 35), Emma Clarke (Leicester, 103, vice-capt), Alex Speers (Railway Union, 87, capt), Shirley McCay (Old Alex, 103), Jean McDonnell (Railway Union, 8), Lisa Jacob (Hermes, 77), Julia O’Halloran (Railway Union, 57), Sinead McCarthy (Hermes, 15), Aine Connery (Hermes, 18), Nikki Symmons (Loreto, 145), Audrey O’Flynn (Hermes, 26), Chloe Watkins (UCD, 11), Lizzie Colvin (HGC, Holland, 45), Nicci Daly (Loreto, 13).
Manager: Sally Ann Fanagan, Coach: Gene Muller, Stand In Manager: Sarah Canning, Assistant Coach: Denis Pritchard, Physiotherapist: Dave Minnion

Ireland U-18 girls: Aisling Naughton (Mount Anville/Old Alexandra), Amy Cooke (Ballyclare HS/Pegasus), Amy-Kate Trevor (Scoil Mhuire/Cork C of I), Dora Gorman (Taylors Hill/Greenfields), Emily Beatty (Alexandra College/Old Alexandra), Emma Russell (Holy Child Killiney/Hermes), Freddie Timmins (Yeats College/Galway), Jenna Holmes (GK, Carrickfergus Grammar/Ballymoney), Joanne Orr (Royal School Armagh/Armagh), Katie Froeling (Gymnasium Sorghvliet/Craeyenhout), Katie Mullan (Dalriada/Ballymoney), Kerri McDonald (Banbridge Academy/Armagh), Leah Ewart (Royal School Armagh/Armagh), Lisa McCarthy (Mount Anville/Railway Union), Lucy Camlin (GK, Ballyclare HS/Pegasus), Lucy McKee (Banbridge Academy/Armagh), Rebecca Barry (Laurel Hill Colaiste/Catholic Institute), Roisin Upton (Crescent Comprehensive/Catholic Institute)
Non-travelling reserves: Erika Hinkson (Alexandra College/Old Alexandra), Kate Lloyd (Loreto Dalkey/Railway Union), Katie Morris (Methodist College/Lisnagarvey), Natasha Cooke (GK, Colaitse Iognaid/Galway)
Head Coach: Richard Malone, Manager: Sarah Canning, Assistant Coach: Phil Oakley, Video/Coach: Scott McNeill, GK Coach: Mary Goode, S & C (JAG Co-ordinator): Laura Ann Furlong

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