Ireland’s women will meet the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, India and South Africa in the group stages of the Olympic Games following confirmation of the final entrants on Saturday.
As the draw is based on world rankings, the only doubt was over the inclusion of South Africa, whose Olympic committee — SASCOC— had previously stated they would not be sending a side to Tokyo 2020.
Winning the African championship was enough for them to earn their Olympic invitation from the International Hockey Federation.
But a fourth-placed finish at the FIH Series was below the threshold set by SASCOC who previously withdrew both their men and women’s teams from the Rio Olympics in 2016 on the same basis.
This time, however, they have decided to make a u-turn and accept their ticket. It makes Ireland’s shootout win over Canada earlier this month all the more significant.
Had the Green Army lost, they would have been the side to profit from a “lucky loser” spot until the South African change of heart.
As it is, barring their World Cup final rematch with world number one side the Netherlands, Ireland can look on the group as probably the more favourable of the two pools on offer. The top four of the six teams advance to the quarter-finals.
The South Africans are the lowest-ranked side at 16; had they not been there, hosts Japan — 14th — would have been in Ireland’s group.
The Green Army have never lost to India in a world ranking match, overcoming that challenge twice at the 2018 World Cup. They drew with Germany and pushed England — who make up the vast majority of the GB squad — all the way at this summer’s European Championships. As such, all will be viable targets for points.
Preparations will begin in earnest in December with physical testing before Sean Dancer’s side assemble for a warm-weather training camp in South Africa in January and a subsequent March trip to Malaysia for humidity-training.
On the club scene, UCC were the one Munster side to prevail in the EY Hockey League, Jenny Clein’s 18th minute goal earning a 1-0 win over Queen’s in Division Two.
It puts them into a share of second place in Pool B with a crucial tie against Monkstown coming up on December 7th.
Cork C of I dropped back in Pool A as Olivia Gibson’s goal a minute from time earned Lurgan a 2-1 win at Garryduff. They sit in fourth spot but are just two points off the playoff places.
In the top tier, Cork Harlequins came unstuck at home against new leaders Pembroke 2-0 with Aisling Naughton and Orla Macken netting in the first quarter.
Catholic Institute were beaten by the same scoreline by Old Alex with Nikki Evans netting her first goal for the Dublin club.
In Munster men’s action, Cork C of I ran up a 7-0 win over Waterford while Harlequins – courtesy of four goals from Julian Dale and two from his younger brother Andrew – were too strong for UCC in a 7-1 result.