The Irish senior women have just qualified for hockey’s World Cup, in London next year (July 21-August 5), for the first time since 2002 and only the fourth time in nearly 50 years. How did you do it?
We had to finish top eight minimum at the World League 3 in Johannesburg last July and the higher we finished the quicker we could gain World Cup qualification. Finishing seventh, and beating India 2-1 in our last game, made us the third team in after automatic qualification. The Continentals were then played – Europeans, Pan-Ams, African, Asian and Oceania Championships. When Argentina and Holland won their respective championships we were waiting on more Continental to go our way. New Zealand and Australia had already qualified so once Australia beat Papua New Guinea we were in. Our result against India was vital as, without it, we would have been waiting on the fifth spot and have had to wait for every Continental to go our way.
You made a really brave effort to qualify for the last Olympics in 2016 so is this a continuation of that progress?
Yes. We topped our pool in World League 3 in 2015 by beating USA, South Africa and Uruguay but unfortunately we lost to world number five China in the cross-over shootout in sudden death. We drew a line on Rio afterwards. The most important thing was to learn from it and we’ve grown as a team since then. We’ve introduced a lot of new players and feel we’re tracking well now going into a World Cup and, then a year later, we’ll start concentrating on the Olympic qualification process for Tokyo 2020. In 2018 we’ll only have one major tournament, compared to three last year.
Have you many players based abroad and, if so, how do you arrange international training?
Yes, we have four. Anna O’Flanagan and Chloe Watkins are playing for Bloemendaal in Amsterdam, Nicola Evans is playing with UHC Hamburg in Germany and Megan Frazer, our 2015 captain who was out last year with a cruciate, is due back playing in January and she plays in Mannheim, Germany. Our players based abroad aren’t usually included in national training days because often their club fixtures can clash and also they’re playing at an incredibly high level over there every week so we use that as their training. We usually meet them for training camps or Test series like our recent home series against Scotland or the upcoming tri-Nations we’re playing against Spain and Belgium, in Spain.
Has qualifying for the World Cup made you change your schedule and preparations in 2018?
Not really. We were disappointed to finish seventh in World League Three but we still figured at least three of the Continentals would go our way and after the Europeans last summer we were already anticipating qualification and planning for the World Cup.
Is it true that you’ve got some games lined up against Great Britain’s Olympic champions and have you any home games for Irish fans to look forward to in 2018?
We’re playing them three times in March in Bisham Abbey and we’ll also be playing them twice in the beginning of June in Lee Valley where the World Cup will take place. We’re playing Japan in Dublin in July and are planning a Four Nations tournament in Dublin as a pre-World Cup warm-up, with those teams still be confirmed.
Where will those be played?
To be confirmed also because, at the moment, Irish hockey doesn’t have a home. UCD’s pitch, which is now 13-14 years old, is no longer international standard. Our ultimate goal is to have our home in Abbottstown, where so many other Irish NGBs are based. At the moment there’s a sand-based pitch there but full international hockey internationals must be played on a water-based pitch now. So we’ll place these fixtures in the best club grounds that we can.
Is it true you have no team sponsor and what would one allow you to do that you can’t right now?
That’s correct. We’re actively seeking a sponsor for London 2018 and, going forward, for Tokyo 2020 qualification also. At present all our funding comes from Sport Ireland. Getting a sponsor would make a huge difference and level the playing field for us internationally. At the moment 11 of the world’s top 16 teams are nearly full-time, training together 3-4 times a-week, which we can’t do. A sponsor would help get people out of work to do a full-time programme, particularly nearer the World Cup, and would also put a few more tours in place and invest in other important services like a full-time nutritionist and psychologist. It would make a huge difference and make our programme more professional.