Smith axes star names in Ireland shake-up

Some of Ireland’s most established international hockey players were left reeling yesterday after being dumped from Darren Smith’s squad ahead of August’s European championships.

New Zealander Smith, who took over in January, was always likely to put his own stamp on the squad, having run the rule over the country’s players during the Irish Hockey League and at a two-day trial last weekend which featured 43 players.

But few expected him to axe centurion defender Cliodhna Sargent plus the likes of Miriam Crowley, Sinead McCarthy and Aine Connery, each of whom have in excess of 50 caps.

Smith said their international careers were not over but tough decisions had to be made: “With competition for places in the squad so high and the opportunity to integrate new players into the squad, it unfortunately means that hard decisions are made around other more established players.

“In particular, experienced international players like Cliodhna Sargent, Sinead McCarthy, Miriam Crowley and Aine Connery. who have been fantastic servants to the Green Army and Irish hockey, have missed out on this occasion. As with any performance-based decisions, we never close the door on any player returning in the future.”

Megan Frazer, Deirdre Duke, Lizzie Colvin and Gillian Pinder return from educational commitments abroad to make the cut while Kate Dillon and Emily Beatty are the newest faces in the 27-strong squad.

Just three of the panel — Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Michelle Harvey (Pegasus) and Megan Frazer (Ballymoney) — play their club hockey outside Leinster.

Audrey O’Flynn, who plays with Dublin outfit Hermes but is based in Cork, and Ulster-based Irish development squad members Chloe Brown, Vanessa Surgeoner and Sammy-Jo Greer bring the number based outside Dublin to seven, but it raises questions over the viability of Belfast and — in particular — Cork as regional training centres.

In April, coach Andrew Meredith scrapped Cork as a regional training centre for the men’s national team, having named no Munster-based player in either his senior or development squads.

Munster club representatives told last weekend’s Irish Hockey Association AGM of their disenfranchisement from the national body, while problems closer to home — particularly falling standards and performances in elite national competitions — continue to cause problems in the south.

Stephen Dale, coach of Munster champions Cork Harlequins, admitted he was stunned at Sargent’s exclusion, while also pointing out that Yvonne O’Byrne, who won Ireland A caps last year and was among the 43 triallists, was unlucky to also miss out.

“I’m shocked and disappointed,” Dale said. “Cliodhna has around 120 caps yet is only 24 and is nowhere near her peak yet. Yvonne played superbly against Ballymoney in front of Darren Smith so I thought she had a chance, perhaps for the development squad.

“The centralised training programme of the previous coaching regime didn’t do much to help the game in Munster either and having so few players involved now is another blow.”

Ireland will play 12 warm-up games in June and July before holding two training camps ahead of August’s European championships in Belgium.


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