Yvonne O’Byrne’s inclusion at the expense of Naomi Carroll is the one change in Ireland women’s panel for Darren Smith’s World League 3 panel as they bid to become the first team to qualify for the Olympic Games.
It gives Smith an extra defensive option in place of the more attack minded Carroll for the tournament which gets underway on June 10th in Valencia.
Otherwise, he has kept faith with the other 17 players who played in World League 2 in Dublin, winning gold with six wins from six.
In Spain, Ireland will be initially grouped with South Africa, Germany, Uruguay and the USA, a side they lost to three times last week in Pennsylvania.
After the pool phase, only one side will be eliminated with the other four going into a quarter-final on June 18th which is effectively a straight qualifier for Rio 2016. Win that and they will be all but assured a trip to the Olympics.
Lose and they will be thrust into the classification matches where a fifth or sixth place finish from the ten team tournament would leave them a nervous wait to see if they claim a lucky loser’s entry.
Despite the recent losses in North America, Ireland are probably in the best shape to qualify for the Games in over a decade with plenty of wins over higher ranked opposition in the past 12 months.
And Smith – in his last tournament before he steps down and is replaced by his assistant Graham Shaw – says he believes he has the squad to do finally break Ireland’s hoodoo.
“The squad we have selected has flexibility with multiple players able to operate in more than one layer, physically fit to cope with the heat in Spain and we feel these are the best performed athletes over the past 12 months.”
Ireland begin their champaign on June 10th against South Africa.
World League 3 Squad (Valencia, Spain from June 10th to 21st): Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Aine Connery (Hermes), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Kate Dillon (Railway Union), Nikki Evans (UCD), Megan Frazer (captain, Ulster Elks), Emma Gray (GK, Hermes), Shirley McCay (Ulster Elks), Ayeisha McFerran (Pegasus), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Ali Meeke (Loreto), Katie Mullan (UCD), Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins), Anna O’Flanagan (UCD), Gill Pinder (UCD), Cliodhna Sargent (vice-captain, Cork Harlequins), Emma Smyth (Railway Union), Chloe Watkins (UCD)