With the hockey community glued to events at UCD, the Irish women have snuck in under the radar as they begin their Athlon FIH Road to London campaign in Belgium against France at Beerschot today (12.30pm Irish time).
Skipper Alex Speers is one of four survivors from the 2008 Olympic qualification tournament in Canada, which came a cropper with a shock loss to Italy. It was a harrowing experience for Speers but one which her side must draw from, as they open this campaign with three ties against the so-called minnows of Mexico, France and Russia ahead of the tougher tests against Spain and Belgium.
“Four years ago, we looked up a lot to (eventual qualifiers) Korea and never really thought of Italy,” she said. “When it came to it, they were the side who did the damage. There are enough of us there to remember that heartache. It is something we never want to experience again.”
Second seeds Ireland are far better prepared this time, largely thanks to the squad being centralised in Dublin. Although disappointed by a sixth-place finish in last summer’s Europeans, trips to play high-ranking opposition in Argentina and South Africa have served as perfect warm-ups, while the Irish also whitewashed today’s opponents France in a three-game series a few weeks ago. “Post-Europeans we turned a corner,” says Speers. “Training, matches, everything. The pieces of the jigsaw are there. We just have to put it together. If we do, we’ll get the result.”
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