Muller’s Ireland eye Celtic Cup as Olympic qualification battle looms

IRELAND’S senior women begin a hectic summer schedule in Scotland over the June Bank Holiday Weekend, as they bid to annex the Celtic Cup for the first time since 2006.

It’s the beginning of a vital couple of months for Gene Muller’s side; some of the world’s best come to Dublin later in June for the Champions’ Challenge, while the European Championships loom large in August.

The decision to centralise the senior panel in Dublin since last October has been offset by less competitive fixtures for the Irish side, a trade-off needed due to the costs of the former exercise. It is hoped the change in approach will help yield qualification for the 2012 Olympics, though only a top-three finish in Europe — where Ireland have never placed higher than fifth — will ensure an automatic berth in London.

Muller has named his first 18-player tournament panel for the Celtic Cup, which runs in Largs from June 3-6.

France — whom Ireland beat 2-0 three times on the trot in friendlies during April — have pulled out of the tournament, leaving the Irish playing off against Scotland and Wales, with a second friendly against Scotland arranged for Bank Holiday Monday.

Foreign-based trio Hannah Bowe (Slough) — sister of Irish international rugby star Tommy — Emma Clarke (Leicester) and Lizzie Colvin (HGC, Netherlands) all come into the selection having missed out on the French series with France. Unavailable are Loreto trio Nikki Symmons, Nicci Daly and Niamh Small, who will be in the midst of Loreto’s preparations for the EuroHockey Club Champions Challenge II, which get underway a week after this series.

Nikki Evans’ comeback from a broken hand will not materialise at this stage while Anna O’Flanagan and Niamh Atcheler are the other two members of the central preparation programme (CPP) who sit out this tournament. The shoulder injury which hampered Railway Union’s Julia O’Halloran in recent weeks has healed enough for her to be included.

Wales return to the competition after sitting out the 2010 edition in Nice while Ireland will be hoping to end Scotland’s reign having narrowly missed out last year and in 2008.


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