After a turbulent build-up, Ireland finally get to do their talking on the pitch this afternoon at the revised time of 12pm (5pm, Irish time) when they go begin their search for a place at the World Cup in Argentina next August.
They start out against Malaysia this afternoon, beginning a hectic run of four matches in five days in the revised tournament format with only first place earning qualification.
Australia wait in the long grass as overwhelming pre-tournament favourites but coach Gene Muller admits that is “the farthest thing" from his mind as he focuses solely on today’s task at hand.
It brings to an end to a preparation period beset by outside factors, starting with the earthquake in Chile which threatened to relocate the competition through Trinidad and Ukraine’s decisions not to compete and finally compounded by the volcanic ash which kept Ireland – along with Scotland and Malaysia – grounded.
Ireland arrived seven days later than scheduled and two days after the tournament began, meaning they are playing catch-up on the Chileans and Aussies who already have a win under their belt and Muller admitted it has been a tough situation to manage, mainly with the uncertainty regarding their arrival in South America.
“It’s not ideal. We tapered for a tournament that was supposed to start last Saturday so effectively the training volume has been down, the intensity has gone down because of this uncertainty. Sometimes these things work in your favour but the only thing I’m concerned about now is the schedule.
“To play four matches in five days with only 48 hours acclimitisation is going to require massive resistance to adversity. There’s a lot of adversity now so we really need to be on our game.”
The fixture list has undergone numerous re-jigs with Malaysia’s tie with Chile brought forward on appeal while Ireland’s two midweek matches have been brought forward by a couple of hours each.
But Muller says that the current situation is particularly inequitable and is forthright in his views, highlighting pressure to get the opening fixture televised as a influential factor.
“I think it’s unfair. It’s quite clearly a case of where television has trumped common sense. There are no doubts these are extraordinary circumstances but the schedule was still controllable but I think Australia and Chile have been handed a huge advantage.
“We play the tournament over five days, they play it over nine. The tournament falls under the auspices of the FIH and they are meant to be custodians of fairness in these situations.
“Either it should have been lengthened or started at the same date. It was quite possible, all they had to do was move the opening fixture to Wednesday and you would have the same conditions.
“I’m angry about it. It seemed that the teams affected [by flight delays] were not taken into consideration and obviously a television producer trumped three teams. It’s quite simply not fair.
“I know Malaysia, Scotland and Ireland protested. All we heard was that the schedule wasn’t going to change. In these circumstances, you manage as well as you can but we need to get lucky as well.”
How quickly his side can adapt to the conditions will be vital given they play their first fixture a little over 48 hours after the whole squad landed. Ireland have been in such a position before for preparation tournaments and experience suggests that initial fixtures can be negotiated on adrenaline but the second time out can be the most draining.
Ireland go into the tournament with slight worries over Julia O’Halloran and Eimear Cregan who has suffered from a bug over the past week.
But Muller has been pleased with his side’s strength of character in testing times.
“The spirit is good in the camp, I’m impressed with their resilience. They’ve been fantastic and up for it as they need to be because in this tournament, Australia are standouts, but the other four teams are very close to one another and literally anyone can win the other games on their day, that I’m absolutely sure of.”
And while Australia is the side that absolutely must be beaten if a dream ticket is to be secured, plenty of water must pass under the bridge to set up a Sunday showdown.
“Right now, Australia is the farthest thing from my mind. We have to think about three other games before then. I say that quite honestly, we have to get through Malaysia.
“They should have beaten us the last time we played [in 2009’s Champion’s Challenge in Russia]. We beat them 1-0, a game we were lucky to win, where they held sway for long periods.
“They still have the same players and coach so I can’t imagine they will be enormously different.
“They also missed qualifying for the semi-final of the Asia Cup by a minute, India scored in the last minute and ended up qualifying for the World Cup so they are tricky if you don’t have your wits about you.”
Ireland squad (club)(age/caps)
Mary Goode (GK, Bray) (30/64), Louisa Healy (GK, Loreto) (28/48), Michelle Harvey (Pegasus) (21,28), Roisin Flinn (Old Alex) (23/68), Cliodhna Sargent (Cork Harlequins) (22/55), Eimear Cregan (Catholic Institute) (28/161), Emma Clarke (Dragons, Belgium) (24/85), Bridget Cleland (Ballymoney) (27/140), Shirley McCay (Dragons, Belgium) (21/81), Lisa Jacob (UCD) (22/64), Alex Speers (Dragons, Belgium) (23/68), Julia O'Halloran (UCC) (22/45), Megan Frazer (University of Maryland, USA) (19/21), Nikki Symmons (Loreto) (27/132), Audrey O'Flynn (UCC) (23/4), Emma Smyth (Railway Union) (24/22), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto) (20/27), Niamh Small (Loreto) (23/24)
Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier match schedule:
Wednesday, April 28 - Ireland vs Malaysia, 12pm (5pm Irish time)
Thursday, April 29 - Ireland vs Scotland, 12pm tip-off (5pm Irish time)
Saturday, May 1 - Ireland vs Chile, 12pm tip-off (5pm Irish time)
Sunday, May 2 - Ireland vs Australia, 10am tip-off (3pm Irish time)