Preparation for the second, and most important, phase of the Olympic qualifying campaign ramps up this evening when Ireland take on Italy in the first of three games in Belfast.
It is part of Darren Smith’s side’s preparations for World League Round 3 in Valencia where the top four sides are assured of a trip to Rio while a top six finish from the ten team event would also give Ireland an outside chance of reaching the Games for the first time.Ireland rest the UCD quintet of Katie Mullan, Chloe Watkins, Anna O’Flanagan, Nikki Evans and Gillian Pinder after their run of three big events in three weeks – WL2, the Euro Club Champions Cup and the IHL finals.
O’Flanagan, indeed, is out for at least a month with her foot in a protective boot after sustaining ankle ligament damage in Bilthoven and she faces a race against time to be fit for Spain.
Michelle Harvey is back in the panel for the first time in 11 months while Hayley Mulcahy is set to make a debut.
Coach Smith says she “has been in excellent form and deserves the opportunity to stake a claim on a position for World League 3 in June.”
Mulcahy, meanwhile, is rewarded for a fine club season with Loreto and has impressed in training camps. She will try and make a late claim for a forward berth in the World League semi-final panel.
Smith described Italy as a team with “skill and flair, which means that the matches will be quality to watch.”
Italy have risen to number 16 in the world in recent times and won their World League round 2 in Uruguay in emphatic fashion, beating the hosts 4-0 in the final and Azerbaijan by the same score in the semis.
Elsewhere, Ulster’s Under-21 men beat Brazil 4-2 as part of the South American side’s continued training camp with Jonny McKee scoring twice with Rowan Poots and Neal Glassey also on the mark.
David Ames and Ian Sloan moved a step closer to making debuts for Great Britain. Both lined out in an unofficial international tie with Germany with the two Cookstown alumni playing in midfield in a 3-2 result with Mark Gleghorne netting the winner.
Ames was recently named the player of the year in the English national league while Sloan helped Wimbledon win the competition’s playoffs last Sunday in an 8-5 win over East Grinstead in the final.
Both last played for Ireland in April 11, 2012, both scoring in a 2-1 win over Germany in Mannheim and have now served their three-year term in international stasis, freeing them to play for GB.
Irish women’s squad for Italy series (April 16,18 and 19): Emily Beatty (UCD), Chloe Brown (Ards), Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Aine Connery (Hermes), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Kate Dillon (Railway Union), Stella Davis (Pembroke Wanderers), Deirdre Duke (UCD), Megan Frazer (Ulster Elks), Michelle Harvey (Leuven, Belgium), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Shirley McCay (Ulster Elks), Ayeisha McFerran (Pegasus), Ali Meeke (Loreto), Hayley Mulcahy (Loreto), Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins), Cliodnha Sargent (Cork Harlequins), Emma Smyth (Railway Union)
Thursday, April 16: Ireland vs Italy, 7.30pm, The Glade
Saturday, April 18: Ireland vs Italy, 2pm, Jordanstown
Sunday, April 19: Ireland vs Italy, 2pm, Jordanstown