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Hockey: Irish 2012 bid given big lift

THE preparations are in place, now all the Ireland women's team need to do is execute their goal and book a place at the London Olympics.

It's easier said than done, of course. Their aim is no easy one, but the 24-strong squad are training hard to be the first Irish team to qualify for the world's biggest sporting event. Guiding them there is South African coach Gene Muller, who believes his side have a "realistic chance" of participating in London. For three months they have been training within the Irish Hockey Association's central preparation programme (CPP), which is designed to maximise the nation's resources and the team's talents.

Muller is wary of putting too much pressure on his players but in keeping them training hard as a unit, he believes they are setting themselves up for success.

"We are putting in maximum effort," the Port Shepstone native said at the ESB-sponsored showcase in UCD yesterday. "I would say that we have a very realistic chance. If you try and sell an idea that is unattainable, then people see through it.

"I would have great difficulty in asking players to commit to the level that they have committed to on a pipe dream.

"Part of why we are doing this (preparation programme) is to make it more attainable. It puts you in the ball game. It increases the probability. We have changed the way we prepare, if we change the way we prepare it will impact the way in which we play. It will increase our performance level."

Their primary focus is on the Champions Challenge, which they will host in UCD in June. A successful showing will improve their world ranking, which could become so important in the run-in for an Olympic spot.

And Muller believes that the CPP can help his charges go into battle against the bigger nations with little to fear.

"You are a different proposition to play against," he explained. "Your chances have increased but nothing in our sport is guaranteed.

"What we have tried to do is not easy. To want to play in the Olympic games is easy; to create the conditions under which it is realistic is hard. What we have done is created a chance to do it and I don't think this team is going to die wondering about whether we could have made it or not."

Irish Independent