Ireland’s women will play their first internationals since their World Cup odyssey in Spain next month as part of the build-up to next year’s first stage of the Olympic qualifying process, writes John Flack.
Three games have been scheduled against their hosts in Valencia in what will be part of a warm-weather training camp.
Ironically, it was a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Spain that booked Ireland their place in the World Cup final in the summer.Graham Shaw’s team, of course, went on to lift the silver medals in London after becoming the first Irish team ever to reach a World final.
After the Spanish trip, Ireland will be heading to Chile early in the new year to continue their build-up to the Olympic qualifier. There, Ireland will play their hosts, who have soared in the rankings to 16th after being in the mid-twenties only a few years ago.
Ireland go into the qualifier for Tokyo 2020 that they are hosting as top seeds after their World Cup heroics catapulted them to eighth on the global list.
Megan Frazer, one of six Ulster women in the World Cup squad, is confident that Ireland can make it into the final stage of qualifying which will be a two-legged home tie late next year.
Korea, Scotland, Czech Republic, Malaysia, France and Ukraine, along with one other nation still to be decided will provide the opposition with the top two finishers to progress.
Frazer said: “From when I was playing under-age hockey, competing at the Olympics was always my dream and, hopefully, we can make it through to the final stage.
“It will be great to have the home crowd behind us and I am sure people will turn out in huge numbers just like they did at the World Cup.
“Having missed out on the last Olympics after losing on penalties to China three years ago remains a painful memory but getting the silver medals in London made up for it to a large degree.”
The 27-year-old midfielder is approaching full fitness again after a hamstring injury ruled her out of the World Cup final.
Before that she suffered a serious knee injury in a training accident with German club Mannheimer HC which required surgery two years ago.
She added: “I am making good progress after tearing the hamstring although I am not 100% just yet and am still doing re-hab exercises.”
“However, I managed to play 10 out of 14 games with Mannheimer before the indoor break in Germany and I managed to score two goals from centre-back so that was pleasing.”
Frazer is currently playing for Ulster Elks for the winter, the club with whom she won two Irish Senior Cup medals before moving to Germany two seasons ago.
She added: “The Elks have been doing well after losing our opening game and there is a great team spirit around the place so I am enjoying being back home before I return to Germany in March.”