‘There’s real world class talent in this Irish squad’

By Stephen Leonard

IRELAND Women’s Hockey team coach Graham Shaw saw his team storm to the World League 2 title in Kuala Lumpur last weekend.

The Firhouse man was full of praise for his squad which was not content at simply qualifying for World League 3 by reaching Sunday’s final, but went all the way to the prize by beating Malaysia 3-0 in the decider in Stadium Hoki Tun Razak.

Graham Shaw DSC 5788 26 January 2017

In front of a huge crowd, the team hit three goals without response from their title match opponents, Anna Flanagan, Katie Mullan and Zoe Wilson all hitting the target.

The team, which included Loreto players Hannah Matthews and Lizzie Colvin, topped their group before continuing on to see off Singapore and semi-final opponents Wales.

It was a hugely encouraging campaign by the Irish team which chalked up no less than 39 goals while shipping just one.

Looking back on his side’s march to the title, Shaw told The Echo “We broke this tournament up into phases, so the first two games made up Phase One, and getting the win over Malaysia in our second match was very important, because we felt then we could top the group and once you get to a semi-final and final, anything can happen.

“But playing Wales in the semi-finals we knew we had to be fully prepared.

“They’re fit, strong aggressive and play that European brand of hockey, so we had to prepare accordingly.

“Then to beat Malaysia in the final in front of a big crowd was just very pleasing.

“Before World League Two we had lost three players to injury, including our captain Megan Frazer, who injured her cruciate in October.

“We knew Anna O’Flan-agan would score goals, but other young players performed very well.

“I believe we have a goalkeeper [Ayeisha McFerran] who could be one of the best in the world and we introduced Roisin Upton who did very well at centre midfield.

“We have a relatively young squad. The average age of the team is 23/24 and the average number of caps is 90, so we also have a lot of experience in the side.

Ireland celebrate winning World League 26 January 2017

“There’s real world-class talent in this Irish squad. We just need to get some more sponsorship in order to be able to buy some of these girls out of work.

“You’re always looking ahead to the next major tournament. You can win all your test matches, but the World Cup and Olympic Games are where we want to be at,” he added.

Ireland’s preparation for World League 3 has been hampered somewhat by the fact that they are not expected to be notified about which tournament they will be involved in until April.

Shaw’s side could be competing in Belgium in June or South Africa in July, but not having this confirmed for another three months does nothing for their build-up.

The team will travel to England for a three match-series against the Olympic gold medallists in March before taking on Olympic bronze medallists Germany in two games in Dusseldorf the following month.

Shaw believes competing against such high-calibre opposition will serve the team well ahead of their next major tournament saying: “When we were in World League 2 we knew that if we played well we could win, but when you’re facing teams in the top four or five in the world, they present different problems.

“But these are great games for us because we need to see where we’re at against these sides,” he stressed.

Meanwhile the schedule for the Mens World League 2 tournament to be held in Belfast has been announced.

Ireland have been drawn in Pool A alongside Austria, Ukraine and Italy and would be considered strong contenders to qual-ify for stage three on the road to the World Cup in India.

Glenanne’s Sam O’Con-nor has joined his 112-capped club mate Shane O’Donoghue from Knock-lyon, and Mitch Darling of Three Rock Rovers, on the Irish Senior Mens training panel.

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