Gene Muller announced his 18 player panel for Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier team to compete in Santiago, Chile in late April in midweek after a series of challenge matches behind closed doors last weekend against Germany's U-21s.
From the squad that competed in the European championships, four changes have been made with Louisa Healy, Niamh Small, Julia O’Halloran and Audrey O’Flynn coming in place of Emma Gray, Lauren Barr, Cathy McKean and Emma Stewart.
Audrey O’Flynn is the only player to come into the panel without major tournament experience, having made her debut early in 2010. Her inclusion is the major surprise, seemingly a direct replacement for the experienced Emma Stewart but brings a significant corner option to the table.
The other changes were slightly more clear-cut, Cathy McKean’s (pictured, below right with Stewart and Nikki Symmons) retirement opened one space while the keenly contested goalkeeper quandary was simplified by Emma Gray’s exam pressures.
Julia O’Halloran has impressed in the green since coming back from a year’s study break from international hockey.
The absence of Barr and Stewart means one less recognised defender in the panel and an extra player in the front six though Southern Fried reports Nikki Symmons could be used in the sweeper role.
Speaking about the selection, Muller said: “Our main aim will be performing to our potential. Our preparation has been thorough and we have no immediate injury scares which bodes well for the team.
“There are no easy points given the evenly matched nature of the teams in Santiago, so mental toughness will be paramount to progress in this tournament. Australia is the obvious stand-out team having recently lost in the Champions trophy final.”
Ireland are the second seeds in the group with world number five’s Australia the runaway favourites to take the one qualifying place in Argentina in August. Chile (16th), Ukraine (21st), Malaysia (22nd) and Scotland (23rd) make up a tough group. The series of fixtures has yet to be finalised by the FIH.
In other international news, Ireland's men remain 18th in the world rankings following the completion of the World Cup earlier this month. This position is unlikely to change before the end of the year with only the Champion's Trophy impacting the rankings at the top end later in 2010.
Ireland - WCQ panel Emma Clarke (Leicester), Bridget Cleland (vice captain, Ballymoney), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Eimear Cregan (Captain, Catholic Institute), Roisin Flinn (Old Alex), Megan Frazer (Maryland), Mary Goode (GK, Bray), Michelle Harvey (Pegasus), Louisa Healy (GK, Loreto), Lisa Jacob (UCD), Shirley McCay (Dragons), Audrey O’Flynn (UCC), Julia O'Halloran (UCC), Cliodhna Sargent (Cork Harlequins), Niamh Small (Loreto), Emma Smyth (Railway), Alex Speers (Dragons), Nikki Symmons (Loreto)