Ayeisha McFerran has been passed fit to play some part in the women’s EuroHockey Championships which get underway next weekend in Antwerp.
The Larne woman did not play in either of the recent series against Italy and Belgium but she has been named in coach Sean Dancer’s panel of 18 for the competition alongside Liz Murphy with Cork Harlequins Emma Buckley missing out on a spot.
McFerran – who recently signed professional terms with SV Kampong – was the goalkeeper of the tournament at last summer’s World Cup and so her availability is a huge addition. Otherwise, Dancer has made just a couple of changes to the side that won silver at the FIH Series earlier this summer.
Striker Nikki Evans will return to the side having been a reserve for that event and she has shown a strong zeal to force her way back into the fold. Evans scored three times in her last three outings to force her way back in, the last of which came over the weekend in a 2-2 draw with Belgium in a practice match at the tournament venue.
Megan Frazer’s injury travails continue, however, and she is forced to sit out this tournament. Having spent 18 months out with a cruciate knee ligament injury, she returned to the line-up in 2018 for the World Cup but a flare-up of that issue saw her miss the final.
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She also missed the FIH Series semi-final and final and has not recovered sufficiently to take part. Cork Harlequins’ Yvonne O’Byrne is another injury victim while Chloe Brown – Frazer’s replacement in June – is no longer available due to work commitments.
Ireland start their campaign on Sunday against England before meeting Belarus and Germany in their four-team group.
Overall victory in Antwerp would earn a direct ticket to the 2020 Olympics. A first-ever run to the final, meanwhile, could potentially give Ireland an easier Olympic qualifier match-up in November.
The Green Army, however, has never gone better than fifth in this competition but last summer’s run to World Cup silver means they travel with far more confidence than ever before.
For coach Dancer, it will be his first tournament formally in charge following a strong enough preparation phase, winning four and drawing one from seven capped matches.
In keeping with his Australian style, the side have shown far more attacking intent and they will hope to carry that into this competition.
On the men’s side, while not publicly confirmed, two-time goalkeeper of the year David Harte looks all but certain to miss out due to injury. Mark Ingram and Jamie Carr will dice for the number one shirt.
Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong), Roisin Upton (Catholic Institute), Nikki Evans (UHC Hamburg), Katie Mullan (captain, Ballymoney), Shirley McCay (Pegasus), Lena Tice (UCD), Gillian Pinder (Pembroke), Bethany Barr (Belfast Harlequins), Chloe Watkins (Monkstown), Lizzie Colvin (Belfast Harlequins), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Elizabeth Murphy (Loreto), Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union), Anna O’Flanagan (vice captain, Muckross), Zoe Wilson (Randalstown), Deirdre Duke (Dusseldorfer HTC), Alison Meeke (Loreto)