World Cup qualification arrived this morning as Australia ran up their inevitably huge victory over Papua New Guinea, crossing the final t and dotting the final i required to send Ireland’s women to their first event of this magnitude since 2002.
“You are always waiting on the official confirmation even though we felt it was a foregone conclusion,” coach Graham Shaw said of the week’s results at the Oceania Cup.
“It’s fantastic. A World Cup in London, especially after with the English women winning the tournament in Rio, it’s going to be fantastically supported and hopefully we can get a big Irish crowd over.”
Ireland’s seventh place finish in the World League in July was heavily celebrated at the time with anticipation that it would be enough for a ticket to London 2018.
It placed the green army third on a waiting list for the elite competition with the outcomes of the continental championships ultimately deciding their fate.
If already qualified sides won their regional competitions, Ireland would move up the list. Europe and Pan-America worked out which pretty much had the plane ticket booked with the Oceania Cup this week proving a formality as New Zealand beat PNG 33-0 and the Hockeroos landed their 23-0 result today.
“When you know the talent New Zealand and Australia possess, you essentially knew what was going to happen. I didn’t think for any second they were going to slip up.
“If we were waiting on results in Africa or Asia later on, I would have been more worried but that is the real importance of finishing seventh in the World League so we weren’t hanging on for any more results.”
As such, that India victory was particularly memorable, especially in the manner it came about with Ayeisha McFerran taking a ten-minute sin-binning and Grace O’Flanagan saving a stroke with her first touch of the tournament.
“We were disappointed to end in the seventh/eight playoff. Our performances through the tournament deserved to be higher and we targeted a top four. If we managed a few situations better, that could have happened.
“Against India, we showed a lot of character and resilience, going 1-0 down, losing our goalkeeper to a sending off. Responding the way we did, it showed the squad has turned a corner to pull out a result of that magnitude.”
From the highs of that tournament followed a lack-lustre European Championships, something that Shaw says his side will need to learn the lessons from in the World Cup build-up.
“We are in the process of debriefing, gathering as much information as we can to see what we can address and make any adjustments. It was incredibly difficult, competing against professional teams, to peak for one competition in Johannesburg and then again three weeks later.
“When you are part-time, jumping into a full-time programme can be difficult mentally and physically draining. That’s something we will reflect on. Trying to peak for two competitions and what comes with that,what you put yourself through.”
Preparation for the World Cup, though, will be a much simpler task in terms of organisation with a singular focus to plan for in 2018 rather than 2017’s numerous different directions.
“For 2017, we started on January 2, travelling to Malaysia then on to Johannesburg with a lot of other tournaments in between, a lot of travelling. There was a lot of different styles and a lot of different standards.
“Now, we will know a lot earlier who will be in our group and factor your programme around that.
“The format of four groups of four with the bottom team knocked out, we are going to be up against it. We will be seeded fourth in our pool but we have to approach every game, believing in what we can do and bring the best possible to every single game.
“We do believe we can compete against the top nations. It’s about finding consistency and those performances in big competitions. This summer has taught us a lot about that.”
The first phase of the preparation process starts in 10 days with a series against Scotland with eight of the Irish Under-21s from Valencia getting their chance to stake their claim for a spot in the wider panel.
“We need to expand our squad. We need 26 to 28 players capable of going to major events and that’s how we create a competitive squad. The teams we put out will be incredibly young on the Tuesday and Wednesday, trying to look at other players, expand the squad and make it as competitive as possible to get the best out of people.”