After a winter of awards parties, the Irish women’s squad have been knuckling back down to business in Santiago, Chile this week, plotting their bid for a first-ever Olympic qualification.
It has been seven days of double sessions so far with tomorrow evening’s match against the hosts the first of four ties to conclude the camp.
Coach Graham Shaw is using the camp as the foundation stone for a busy 2019 with the first major focus on June’s Hockey Series Finals in Dublin.
Finish top two there and Ireland are guaranteed to advance to a head-to-head Olympic qualifier – again likely to be in a hosting role – in the autumn following August’s European Championships.
He starts out with a 26-player squad with 16 of the World Cup heroes involved, including Limerick’s Roisin Upton and Cork’s Yvonne O’Byrne. They are joined by former Harlequins’ goalkeeper Emma Buckley while the panel features five uncapped players likely to make their debut this week.
As such, it will have an impact on the local leagues. Catholic Institute will be without two of their biggest stars for their Munster Division One games. They face city rivals Limerick tomorrow at Rosbrien before taking on Belvedere Sunday at the same venue.
Ger O’Carroll must plan without Upton along with rising star Laura Foley – a former Limerick player – who is in Alicante with the Irish U21 side. Despite the absences, Insta will be favourites to extend their perfect record in all competitions this season against two clubs in the bottom three.
Title rivals Ashton are back in action outdoors against Waterford, buoyed by their Munster indoor success. The first half of the campaign yielded six wins from seven to emerge as serious contenders for, at the very least, a place in EY Hockey League Division 2 next season.
Foley is among five Munster women in Spain on U21 duty with UCC’s Jenny Clein and Hannah Humphries and Cork Harlequins’ Caoimhe Perdue and Michelle Barry allo involved in that three-game series.
It begins an extensive 2019 schedule for the U21s which culminates in July’s European Junior Championships, a qualifier for the Junior World Cup.
Coach Dave Passmore has outlined a daily plan built around club commitments leading up to the summer event in Valencia. In addition to training camps in Ireland, they have a four nations tournament in Dublin confirmed for June, an eight-day camp in Terrassa, Spain lined-up as well as four games against Belgium in the final run-in.
Like all junior age group teams in Ireland, the group remains one which has to be self-sufficient with no high-performance funds allocated in 2018 and, barring a late change in policy, that remains the case. However, an anonymous benefactor and the support of Eugene Collins solicitors has been hugely important in making the programme possible.
Other Irish youth teams have been less fortunate in recent times with players having to foot the bill entirely to represent their country.