Euro test for Ireland and for Abbotstown venue

Ireland will take on Poland, Czech Republic and Turkey this week
Euro test for Ireland and for Abbotstown venue

Sarah McAuley, Caoimhe Perdue, Katie Mullan Roisin Upton and Michelle Carey ahead of the World Cup

This week’s EuroHockey Championship Qualifiers will test not just the Irish women’s ambitions on the Road to Paris 2024 but also the vision for the Sport Ireland Campus as a long-term base.

Ireland will take on 23rd-ranked Poland on Thursday (7.30pm) before meeting the Czech Republic (27th) on Saturday and Turkey (33rd) with the winner qualifying for next year’s “A division” in Monchengladbach.

As 13th in the world, the Green Army are heavy favourites to take that ticket and give their Olympic hopes a boost. 

But the tournament will also act as a litmus test for the campus and its suitability to being the go-to venue for international fixtures.

In the wake of 2018’s World Cup success, the Irish players' calls for a permanent training pitch were heeded by Sport Ireland.  Until now, that was the limit of Abbotstown’s purpose but this week it branches out as an entertainment venue with a temporary stand of 1,250 seats, broadcast units, international standard dug-outs and a pop-up vendors village put in place at considerable cost for a four-day event.

Coach Sean Dancer says the “challenge” is how to make this a permanent situation rather than a costly one-off for Sport Ireland and Hockey Ireland.

“We want to get this all the time because this group really want to be here. Walking out, it is a different kettle of fish. It doesn’t look like the same venue and it would be amazing to have it here full-time.” 

A key metric is how many make the trip to Blanchardstown. It is the first time, international hockey in Dublin has moved north of the Liffey in the astroturf era with games primarily taking held at Belfield since the mid-90s.

Prior to July’s World Cup, several hundred came out four times over for a series against Japan in UCD for uncapped fixtures. With a heightened competitive element of this qualification tournament and its Olympic importance, anything less would be cause for concern.

The qualifier itself is a new one on the calendar, introduced to make Olympic qualification more accessible to all nations on the continent, giving everyone a two-year timeline to qualify.

Poland have been beaten in each of the four prior meetings, only scoring once. while Ireland are on a nine-game winning streak against the Czech Republic, though they now have considerable insider knowledge. They are coached by Gareth Grundie who was Dancer’s assistant up to as recently at last October. The only meeting with Turkey was a 13-0 drubbing with Naomi Carroll scoring four back in 2015.

Dancer’s panel, though, is still in its formative stages with Megan Frazer the latest confirmed retirement. Just half the side have more than 15 caps to their name. The World Cup showed teething problems, primarily in chance-conversion. The return of Niamh Carey - with two goals in three caps - following a US colleg placement is a welcome addition.

Women's EuroHockey Championship qualifiers (all at the Sport Ireland campus) 

August 18: Czech Republic v Turkey, 5.15pm Ireland v Poland, 7.30pm

August 20: Poland v Turkey, 10.45am Ireland v Czech Republic, 1pm 

August 21: Poland v Czech Republic, 10.45am Ireland v Turkey, 1pm

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