Ireland’s women have been handed a tough draw at next July’s World Cup in London as they will face England, who are second in the current world rankings, the United States (7th) and India (10th) in Pool B.
Their target will be to avoid last place in the pool which would mean an early exit, with the teams that finish second and third in the various groups playing cross-over matches to determine four berths in the last eight. The four table-toppers go straight into the quarters.
Ireland defeated India 2-1 at the World League 3 tournament in Johannesburg in the summer to ultimately secure their trip to London but, since then, their opponents went on to lift the Asian championship.
USA have held the upper hand in recent meetings with Ireland, who did however beat the Americans 2-0 at the World League 3 tournament in Valencia in 2015 before losing 6-1 in a rematch in the classification stages.
England have won the two most recent meetings between the sides, 4-1 at the Europeans in August and 3-2 in Johannesburg at WL 3. However, confidence in the Irish camp is high after learning of the draw as the squad contemplate a first World Cup since 2002.
Commenting on the draw, head coach Graham Shaw said: “It’s a very competitive group with each team providing a different challenge. We’re thrilled to play at the World Cup in London, so close to home and we hope that the Irish crowd will get behind us.
“We have an exciting programme lined up for 2018 where we will continue to grow and develop as a squad, as well as bringing international hockey matches to supporters around the country prior to departing for London.”
John Flack, meanwhile, caught up with some of the province’s senior internationals and backroom staff to seek their views on the draw.
Assistant coach Arlene Boyles, who played in the 2002 World Cup in Australia, was not unhappy at the draw as the bottom seeds in each pool were never going to have it easy.
“We always knew it was going to be tough because of our ranking but it’s exciting at the same time to be playing on such a big stage.
“Obviously, people will single out India as the target game for us but I believe every team in the group will go into it thinking they can beat the others and we’re no different.”
Zoe Wilson, one of five Ulster players in the Ireland squad, who arrived in Spain on Sunday night for a three nations tournament also involving World Cup finalists Spain and Belgium is looking forward to the trip to London with a degree of confidence.
“Having seen the pool draw, it has made everyone very excited knowing that, with the right preparation, we can compete with these teams. In the past 12 months we have beaten India at a major tournament and drawn with the USA in a friendly, so there is everything to play for.
“Due to the nature of the tournament and the fact that only three in each pool go to the cross-over games it is important to start positively against the Americans. I think playing England on their home turf with a packed stadium in the World Cup will also be an exciting challenge for all of us.”
Megan Frazer, who hopes to be fit for the showpiece after more than a year out due to a cruciate injury, has welcomed the draw and particularly the chance to play England on their own patch.
“Playing the host country in front of a sell-out crowd is a really exciting prospect which will present its own challenges not least the fact it will be difficult to hear ourselves on the pitch with all the noise.
“We are familiar with England as we have played them regularly in build-up games in the past and the girls gave them a really tough match at the qualifying tournament when we lost 3-2.
“We have also had numerous games against the Americans in and out of tournaments and we are familiar with the way they play – they have a very hard-running style and are very fit.”