The Irish U21 women’s side had their status in the top tier of European competition assured thanks to an EHF executive board decision this week which keeps alive their hopes of playing in the 2020 Junior World Cup.
Earlier in September, Ireland had been due to face Spain in an all-or-nothing final tie in Valencia on the final day of the EuroHockey Junior Championships.
A strain of the norovirus, however, affected nine Spanish players the night before the sides were due to meet with the local medical advice effectively blocking them from playing the final match.
It left the tournament incomplete with the outcome of the final placings left to the EHF executive board.
Usually, when a team does not field, a 5-0 concession is recorded but the EHF judged that this would not be a fair outcome due to it being a “force majeure” and so “it was agreed that points cannot be fairly or reasonably allocated”.
This raised fears of a hastily organised re-match at a later date but the EHF decided to instead have no relegation from the competition and will increase the entry list in 2019 to either nine or 10 teams with the final format to be decided at a later date.
The 2019 EuroHockey Juniors is the sole qualifying event for the Junior World Cup and so the reprieve gives Ireland’s young charges the chance to still qualify for the elite event.
Irish women’s coach Graham Shaw, meanwhile, has named six of that U21 panel in his senior panel for a three-game series against Scotland which takes place at Stormont and Banbridge this month.
His 26-player selection features the uncapped Liz Murphy, Hannah McLoughlin, and Sarah Torrans with the latter set to play for the Irish U18s, U21s and seniors all in the same calendar year.
Cork Harlequins’ pair Rebecca Barry and Naomi Carroll are back having missed the major summer tournaments through injury, making it five players from the club involved.
They join goalkeeper Emma Buckley and defenders Yvonne O’Byrne and Roisin Upton.
The series is very much one for fringe players to stake a claim in Shaw’s World Cup plans with eight of the European Championship panel rested.
To that end, Ireland’s place at the 2018 World Cup will probably be confirmed next Thursday at the Oceania Cup in Sydney barring rank outsiders Papua New Guinea causing shocks against world powers Australia and New Zealand.
Closer to home, the Quins’ quintet will look to back up their brilliant 2-1 win over the all-conquering UCD when they host Ulster’s finest Pegasus on Saturday at Farmer’s Cross.
Pegs look to be a much stronger prospect than last season, though, with Shirley McCay a huge addition while Katie McKee had an excellent debut following her move from Ards.
In Munster Division One, the leading pair — UCC and Catholic Institute — both come into their battle at the Mardyke with a 100% record and a clean sheet for the season to date. Something has to give.
On the men’s side, Cork C of I host newly-promoted Annadale on Sunday with both clubs looking to get off the mark after blanks last weekend at the hands of Leinster opposition.
C of I’s was the better performance but much will depend on the battle of Olympians John Jermyn and Peter Caruth.
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