Dancer names reduced panel for 2021 Olympic bid

Uncapped Michelle Carey and Zara Malseed have been given a late chance to stake a claim for an Olympic spot following Irish women’s head coach Sean Dancer’s decision to reduce his panel. 

They were included in his reduced panel of 23 from which 16 players and two reserves will be selected for Tokyo 2021. 

It features 16 of the 18 who helped Ireland qualify last year with Serena Barr missing out due to an ACL injury while Gillian Pinder withdrawing from the panel for work reasons. 

Both were also part of Ireland’s last outing back in January on tour to South Africa before lockdown came with the squad training locally ever since. 

Sean Dancer during the 2019 European Championships. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

In that time, UCD flyer Carey – a former youth international cross country runner and Dublin ladies Gaelic footballer – impressed in the Irish Senior Cup success in September. Malseed, meanwhile, was first called into the wider Irish panel last February following an outstanding scoring return of more than a goal a game for Ards. 

On the goalkeeping front, Railway Union’s Grace O’Flanagan has returned to the squad in recent months after an extended break, combining training with her work on the frontlines as a doctor. 

She will likely be dicing with Liz Murphy for the reserve goalkeeper spot with Ayeisha McFerran the recognised first choice of the three netminders included. 

Ireland’s Olympic campaign starts on July 24 against South Africa with world number one side the Netherlands, Germany, India and Great Britain waiting in the wings in the six-team preliminary group. 

Speaking on the selection, Dancer said “This has been a tough process, reducing the number of athletes on the panel. We’ve seen some new talent come in and make an impression, which is a great sign for the longer term vision of the sport here in Ireland. 

“I’m confident we have a really good mix of experience and talent in this panel. They’ve all been working incredibly hard and it’s been quite challenging over the past number of months with restrictions. 

“I’m looking forward to the next few months and excited that we’re getting closer to Tokyo 2021.” 

 “We are very excited for 2021 with two major international competitions on the calendar, Europeans and the Olympic Games. However, first and foremost we just cannot wait to play some international test matches again in the New Year.” 

Katie Mullan will continue to captain the team and she said of the year ahead: “2020 has been a challenging year for everyone but over the past couple of months we have trained incredibly hard. 

“With a very competitive cohort we have made some great progress, despite all the challenges COVID has presented. All our training has been in a safe environment which is credit to our staff and the players for adhering to all rules put in place.” 

Irish women’s senior squad for 2021: Beth Barr (Belfast Harlequins), Michelle Carey (UCD), Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Deirdre Duke (Old Alex), Nikki Evans (Old Alex), Megan Frazer (Belfast Harlequins), Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union), Zara Malseed (Ards), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Shirley McCay (Pegasus), Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong), Hannah McLoughlin (UCD), Katie Mullan (Ballymoney, captain), Anna O’Flanagan (Muckross), Grace O’Flanagan (Railway Union), Lena Tice (Old Alex), Sarah Torrans (Loreto), Roisin Upton (Catholic Institute), Chloe Watkins (Monkstown), Zoe Wilson (Randalstown) 

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