Connery earns Ireland opportunity with call-up to elite panel

ÁINE CONNERY looks set to be given the chance to resurrect her Irish international hockey career, after she was confirmed as a participant in the team’s central preparation programme (CPP) yesterday.

The 12-times capped Kilkenny native, also a noted camogie player with St Lachtain’s, has not seen full international action since seemingly falling out of favour with coach Gene Muller in the 2007/08 season.

Then with UCC, the 23-year-old maverick forward is now a regular goalscorer for Hermes in Dublin, and her impressive club form has been rewarded with a “probationary” place in the CPP, which aims to achieve Olympic qualification for the first time.

Muller indicated at the launch of the controversial programme last October that changes may be made to the panel dependant on form and performance, and the South African has remained true to his word. The revised squad includes 26 players, compared to the 24 announced three months ago, with a couple of notable changes.

The retirement from the international scene of experienced defender Bridget Cleland of Ballymoney has seen her replaced in the panel by Slough’s Hannah Bowe — sister of Ireland and Ospreys rugby star Tommy.

Brenda Flannery, a star for Connacht at underage level who is impressing in Leinster during her fresher year with UCD, is brought in alongside Connery to fill the other “probation” slot.

During an open day at Belfield yesterday to highlight the progress made by the ESB-sponsored CPP, Irish skipper Éimear Cregan said the intensive, Dublin-based programme was beginning to yield dividends. “The CPP has been fantastic for the team,” she said.

“It has boosted morale and confidence as well as enhancing our quality of training. All players are striving to perform better and this can only benefit the team as a whole.”

Muller added that the programme has helped to “address critical technical and tactical weaknesses” as the side train for in excess of 20 hours per week for 10 months a year.

Ireland host the Champions Challenge, which features sides ranked 7-15 in the world, at UCD in June, in what should be an effective warm-up for the 2011 EuroHockey Nations Championship later this summer.

The Irish must better their best-ever finish of fifth at that tournament to guarantee passage to the 2012 Olympics, or they will be forced down a treacherous qualifier route.

IRELAND updated senior women’s CPP panel (January 2011): N Atcheler (UCD); H Bowe (Slough); E Clarke (Leicester); L Colvin (Holland, club TBA); A Connery (Hermes); M Crowley (UCC); E Cregan (Catholic Inst); N Daly (Loreto); N Evans (Railway Union); E Gray (GK, Hermes); M Harvey (Pegasus); L Jacob (Hermes); S McCarthy (Hermes); S McCay (Old Alex); J McDonnell (Railway Union); A O’Flanagan (Hermes); A O’Flynn (Hermes); J O’Halloran (Railway Union); C Sargent (Cork Harlequins); N Small (Loreto); E Smyth (Railway Union); A Speers (Railway Union); N Symmons (Loreto); P Smithwick (GK, Old Alex) C Watkins (UCD); B Flannery (UCD).

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