Sunday 22 September 2019

Irish women ready after 'tricky' spell

O'Flanagan: “Graham is an exceptional coach, reads the game really well and does a lot of homework and he would have taken a lot of our sessions with Graham before so it’s not a massive change for us.” Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
O'Flanagan: “Graham is an exceptional coach, reads the game really well and does a lot of homework and he would have taken a lot of our sessions with Graham before so it’s not a massive change for us.” Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

leading Irish women's hockey scorer Anna O'Flanagan insists they've not been distracted or disadvantaged by the changes in management caused by the shock departure of Graham Shaw.

He left his head coach role in March to take over New Zealand's women, ranked sixth in the world, and last month it was announced that Sean Dancer, previously acting interim senior coach of the Kiwis, would be Shaw's replacement with Ireland.

While interim coach Gareth Grundie and O'Flanagan concede it has made preparations "tricky" for the first stage of 2020 Olympic qualifying - next month's FIH World Series tournament (June 8-16) in Banbridge, Co Down - the objective remains the same.

"It's made it a little bit tricky but, in high-performance sport, it's always going to change and you have to be prepared and make the best of what you have," said Grundie, who is still in control for the time being as Dancer only arrived in Ireland on Thursday.

"Gareth is an exceptional coach, reads the game really well and does a lot of homework and he would have taken a lot of our sessions with Graham before so it's not a massive change for us," added O'Flanagan (pictured).

She also pointed out that Banbridge is "only an hour and 15 minutes from Dublin, saying "there were 10,000 people cheering us on in London so we would hope that at least a couple of them would travel to cheer us on now."

A top-two finish in this event would get them into the next round of Olympic qualifying and they also have European Championships this August where the winners get an automatic spot for Tokyo 2020.

Meanwhile, a new bursary scheme that looks to be the first step towards semi-professional status has provided a timely boost for the women's hockey team given their recent upheavals.

The sponsorship deal with Park Developments will allow 23 players to cut back on work in future and train collectively two or three times a week.

After sensationally winning World Cup silver as amateurs last summer, that's a far cry from having to self-fund two years ago.

And it also offers stability after some major changes since their World Cup heroics. Reaching that final and jumping to eighth in the world rankings earned them top seeding and home advantage for the first stage of next month's Olympic qualifier.

Ireland's plans had included a series of challenges against Canada next week but with the Canadians pulling out, their preparatory games are against Ulster's U-18 men, Ireland's U-17 men and India's U-21 women.

Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport