Meeke and O’Byrne vye for final WL2 place

Seventeen of the 18 spots in Darren Smith’s squad for the women’s World League 2 in Dublin have been finalised with Ali Meeke and Yvonne O’Byrne vying for the last defender’s spot.

Meeke sustained a broken hand during the recent training camp in Valencia and what kind of form she returns from the injury will decide who takes up the final spot at the main event.

Ali Meeke is hoping to recover in time for WL2 from a broken hand Pic: Adrian Boehm

Ali Meeke is hoping to recover in time for WL2 from a broken hand Pic: Adrian Boehm

For the most part, Smith has kept faith with the panel that delivered silver at the Champions Challenge I last April with, if Meeke makes it, 15 of that squad retained.

Hannah Matthews is the one tournament debutant. Nonetheless, she has been one of the stand-out players at club level in the past 18 months and has quickly assimilated into the international panel. With accurate tackling and distribution, she has been a great addition since making her first senior international appearance against May last year.

Lizzie Colvin comes back after her cruciate knee ligament injury to take one of the midfield roles while Aine Connery returns to the forward line. They replace rugby-sevens tied Audrey O’Flynn and Belgium-based Michelle Harvey along with Emily Beatty of last year’s crew.

Of the current central panel, Beatty, Chloe Brown, Deirdre Duke and Stella Davis wait in the wings this time around.

That puts Emma Gray and Ayeisha McFerran in the goalkeeping spots. In front of them, it is a side quite a lot of attacking intention. At the back, the likely options will see captain Megan Frazer, as a proactive sweeper, and vice-captain Cliodhna Sargent controlling the centre of defence for the most part with the former pivotal to how Ireland tick in most aspects.

Rotating around them, Katie Mullan’s conversion from an out-and-out striker in her younger years to overlapping full-back has been well-judged. Shirley McCay Matthews, Kate Dillon and either O’Byrne or Meeke will slot in around them.

Some of them will also split their time in midfield with Nicci Daly, Emma Smyth, Colvin, Chloe Watkins and Gillian Pinder while Anna O’Flanagan, Nikki Evans, Naomi Carroll and Connery will be employed up top for the most part on recent evidence.

The squad was selected following a test series against Spain in January and an intense training camp in Dublin over the past five days. They will next travel to England to meet Great Britain on March 2, 4 and 5 for a three-game series.

That precedes the World League proper which sees Ireland pitted against the Ukraine (March 14), Canada (March 15) and Turkey (March 17) in their initial group. World League 2 is an important step on the road to Olympic Qualification and the team need to finish in the top 2 in order to qualify for World League 3 where the Olympic berths will be decided.

World League round two squad (March 14-22, Dublin): Emma Gray (Hermes), Ayeisha McFerran (Pegasus), Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Aine Connery (Hermes), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Kate Dillon (Railway Union), Nikki Evans (UCD), Megan Frazer (Captain, Ulster Elks), Shirley McCay (Ulster Elks), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Katie Mullan (UCD), Anna O’Flanagan (UCD), Gill Pinder (UCD), Cliodhna Sargent (vice-captain, Cork Harlequins), Emma Smyth (Railway Union), Chloe Watkins (UCD)
Final spot from either: Ali Meeke (Loreto), Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins)

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