Graham Shaw is confident Megan Frazer and Nicci Daly will be fit to play in the World Cup as he confirmed the duo in his final 18-player line-up for London next month.
Speaking at Softco HQ on Tuesday afternoon when announcing the line-up, he confirmed both are on the list with Naomi Carroll, Sarah Torrans, Sinead Loughran and Emily Beatty the unlucky ones to be placed on the reserves list.
“Nobody was ruled out through injury,” Shaw said when asked about former captain Frazer’s inclusion. “Megan played the second part of the German season and, as we see it now, she is fit to play in the World Cup. If anything changes, we will announce that but we feel we have the best 18 players to represent Ireland that are fit and ready to go.”
Frazer underwent her third surgery two weeks ago on her knee which she first injured in October 2016.
Shaw feels the “timescale is right for her to return to play”, adding that she is the kind of player it is worth giving as much time as possible to be part of the panel.
“For me, she lit up world hockey in 2014 and 2015 and was continuing that until the injury in 2016. It has been a very difficult period for her for 15 or 16 months. She’s a serious talent, one that we haven’t seen around Irish hockey much for the last number of years so we have to give her every possible chance she can impact our team.”
Daly, meanwhile, will return this week from a stress fracture in her foot. Shaw said she could have possibly played last weekend against Germany but they erred on the side of caution, waiting for the series against Japan in Cork to give it an extra few days to heal.
For both players, though, a slight tweak in the World Cup squad rules means that there is a greater possibility to give players a chance of taking part.
Previously, squads were limited to just 18 players with no facility to bring in replacements. This time around, replacements can be brought in for injured players – assessed and certified by a doctor – during the competition.
“You take a risk with players coming back from injury; that’s natural. We feel they will get through the next few weeks. The format does give you that bit of a comfort blanket if players do have a recurrence that you can bring in players that have been part of the squad.”
Other than this duo, the squad is one of the most experienced ones ever fielded with only Roisin Upton holding under 50 international caps.
Shaw added that it was the toughest selection he has ever had to make, knowing the sacrifices the players have put in to get to this stage.
“These women give every everything for it, they dedicate their lives to it. They get up early for the gym, train late at night. They also have their lives to deal with. Someone like Cliodhna [Sargent], with a young family, it’s incredibly difficult, something that we put a lot of thought into. We went through everything in depth and unfortunately, these players have missed out.
“It was difficult with her only returning to play in November; it maybe came a little bit too quick this time. She has given a lot to Irish hockey and her career is not over. She’s still part of our squad and we value her but, this time, we felt we had six more defenders just ahead of her at the moment.
The squad will head to Cork for eight days, thee games against Japan next Wednesday, Friday and Saturday before playing another couple of games in Dublin against Chile and Italy. Preparations finish with a practice game against South Africa in Lee Valley.
They take on these games in good spirits after last weekend’s fine win in the Three Nations Invitational competition in Dusseldorf.
“To beat Germany over there for the second year in a row was very pleasing. We tend not to focus very much on the results but results like that do give you a big boost. We put in a really solid performance and it’s a huge boost to take a scalp like that, to beat them in their home ground.”
As for the World Cup tournament itself, the spread-out nature of the games will work in Ireland’s favour in the coach’s eyes. They start on July 21 against USA and then meet India on Thursday, July 26 before finishing the four-team group on July 29 against hosts England in front of a sold-out crowd.
Top spot advances to the quarter-finals while second and third advance to a preliminary knock-out round of matches, battling to fill the other quarter-final spaces.
“This format suits us; they are one off games. In other tournaments, when fatigue sets in, the top teams come to the fore. With four and five days rest, it gives everyone a chance; you go in as fresh as you possibly can.
“The main aim is to get out of the pool and get to the knock-out games. We will approach each one trying to win it and feel we have a group of players capable of threatening any team in the world when we put in a performance we can be proud of.”
** The Hook will have further interview pieces with squad members in the coming week
Ireland squad for the Hockey World Cup (July 21 – August 5, 2018): Ayeisha McFerran (University of Louisville), Grace O’Flanagan (Railway Union), Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Lena Tice (UCD), Zoe Wilson (Belfast Harlequins), Roisin Upton (Cork Harlequins), Shirley McCay (Pegasus), Katie Mullan (UCD), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Gillian Pinder (Pembroke), Megan Frazer (Mannheimer HC), Chloe Watkins (HC Bloemendaal), Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins), Deirdre Duke (UCD), Nicola Evans (UHC Hamburg), Ali Meeke (Loreto), Anna O’Flanagan (HC Bloemendaal)