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Ireland's women continue their preparations for the first phase of the Tokyo Olympic qualifying process over the next two weeks with eight Ulster players included in the squad that travelled to Chile on Thursday for a warm weather training camp.

Thursday, 3rd January 2019, 11:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 2:22 pm

The first part of the trip will be used solely for training purposes before the squad plays four internationals in the space of five days against their hosts in the second week of the trip.

The South Americans are listed at 16th in the globe, eight places lower than Ireland, whose ranking soared following their silver medal heroics at the World Cup in London in August.

Thirteen members of that squad are included in Shaw’s panel, with Ulster pair Shirley McCay and Lizzie Colvin, among the absentees on this occasion.

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The Barr twins Serena and Bethany, formerly of Lurgan, and now with Beeston and UCD respectively, are set to win their first caps.

Returning to the Ireland scene after almost two years out are Gemma Frazer (Belfast Harlequins) and Ruth Maguire (Pegasus) and completing the local contingent are World Cup heroines, Megan Frazer, Ayeisha McFerran, team captain Katie Mullan and Zoe Wilson.

Wilson, meanwhile, has recovered from the hamstring injury that ruled her out of one of the recent unofficial internationals in Valencia and last week’s Denman Ulster Shield final in which her Belfast Harlequins side lost on penalties to Pegasus.

The 21-year-old enjoyed the Spanish trip nonetheless and is looking forward to the games against Chile.

“Spain was a great trip, it allowed us to regroup and refocus by not only drawing our 2018 season to a close but also setting goals and targets for 2019 and our road to Tokyo,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to Chile, it’s another great opportunity for us to play and train together as a squad.

“Chile are a good side and every game we’ve played against them to date has been competitive.”

Wilson was among the players featured in the BBC NI documentary ‘Live like Legends’ charting Ireland’s incredible World Cup odyssey and she found it both an inspirational and motivational watch.

“It really brought it all back to me what a sensational summer it was and we are really focused now on gaining qualification for Tokyo which will be challenging but we are even more determined than ever to get there,” she added.

Ireland will be hosting the World Series event, most likely in Dublin, from June 8-16 when they will be up against lower ranked opposition as they bid to reach the final stage of qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

Also taking part are Czech Republic, France, Korea, Malaysia, Scotland, Ukraine and one team still to be confirmed with the top two finishers to progress.

Meanwhile, the domestic season resumes at the weekend after the Christmas break with, in the Ulster Premier, Queen’s entertaining Ballymena, Dungannon at home to Banbridge and Rainey hosting Randalstown.

The big game on the men’s scene takes place tonight when Ulster Premier leaders Instonians face South Antrim, while tomorrow champions Kilkeel take on Civil Service with Raphoe travelling to Portadown.