Racquets: Ireland's promotion hopes hit by Claffey exam clash
IRELAND'S Fed Cup promotion prospects have suffered a major blow with the news that Jenny Claffey has been forced to pull out of next week's event in Cairo.
The 19-year-old Dubliner, who partnered Lynsey McCullough to victory in three of their four doubles matches in last year's corresponding competition in Malta, has not able to change the date for her exams at UCD next week.
So, team manager Garry Cahill has drafted in Cork's Niamh Coveney (20) as a replacement for the eight-country round-robin Europe-Africa Zone Group 3 event.
"It's disappointing that we will be without Jenny, but I have every confidence in Niamh's ability to do a good job for us," said Cahill, whose side also includes Australian-born debutant Julia Moriarty (21), Antrim's McCullough (19) and Greystones' Amy Bowtell (16).
"Niamh has been playing college tennis with DCU. She also won the doubles in the Rushbrooke (Cobh) tournament last week, and was runner-up to Lynsey in the singles final."
Cahill's target for his side is to secure one of the two promotion slots, but he acknowledges it's a tough task, with Turkey, Morocco and Egypt also in the field, as well as Algeria, Iceland, Malta and Moldova.
Ireland have just one player who figures in the WTA singles world rankings -- Moriarty, at No 647.
Turkey, demoted from Group Two, have one player at 260 and another at 331. Morocco have two players in the top 700 -- at 603 and 627.
"Turkey are the strongest side, and we certainly will be one of the outsiders to gain promotion," said Mullingar-born Cahill, who is in his third year in the Fed Cup hot seat.
"We have a very young group of players and our main aim is to put together the bones of a strong Fed Cup team for the future. After losing the likes of Kelly Liggan, Yvonne Doyle and Karen Nugent through retirement, you're not going to change things overnight with a new and inexperienced group of players."
Cahill has arranged for his players to have four days of practice in Cairo in order to become acclimatised to the weather.
"We will arrive in Cairo on Friday afternoon and we'll have four full days of practice ahead of the opening day's play on Wednesday," he said.
Cahill will be joined in Cairo by Conor Taylor, a full-time coach at the National Tennis Centre.