Former Lurgan player Bethany Barr is on cloud nine after being named in the Ireland women’s hockey squad for the first stage of the qualification process for the Tokyo Olympics which gets under way in Banbridge on Saturday.
Her inclusion, at the expense of World Cup silver medallist Yvonne O’Byrne, who has been dropped, caps off a memorable year for the UCD defender, who is one of seven Ulster women in the squad.
The 23-year-old spent four years on a hockey scholarship in the United States before returning home to play for UCD last summer.
She had a superb season in Dublin and has earned her place in the squad after making her senior international debut only a few months ago in Chile. All six of the local players who competed at the World Cup last August in London have, as expected, been retained for the tournament.
Barr will therefore be joined by team captain Katie Mullan, Shirley McCay, Zoe Wilson, Megan Frazer, Lizzie Colvin and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran in the 18-strong panel.
However, along with Cork woman O’Byrne, Nikki Evans, who also played in London, misses out to be replaced by Railway Union’s Sarah Hawkshaw. Munster goalkeeper Emma Buckley also comes into the squad as back up to McFerran following the retirement of Grace O’Flanagan after the World Cup.
Former Ards player Chloe Brown, now with East Grinstead, has been named as one of two injury-cover reserves along with Evans.
Ireland interim head coach Gareth Grundie said:”Selection has been really difficult which means there has been healthy competition for places throughout the recent training block, which is great to see.” With the girls having missed out on Rio three years ago they are determined to make it to Tokyo and we are all really looking forward to the tournament in Banbridge.”
“Although we are seeded to win it, it’s certainly not going to be easy and all the other teams will be keen to get a pop at the World Cup silver medallists.”
Ireland, who are ranked eighth in the world following their unprecedented success in London, are up against Malaysia, Czech Republic and Singapore initially, needing a top-two finish overall to progress to the final eliminator for Tokyo.
World Cup captain Mullan added: “As we take our first step towards Olympic qualification, the 18 players selected for this FIH Hockey Series represent the 43 Green Army squad members who started this journey.
“We’re really excited for this home tournament and hope to play in front of a large Irish crowd. The World Cup was a starting point for us.”
Saturday’s FIH Hockey series programme: Pool A: Ireland v Malaysia (3pm); Czech Republic v Singapore (5pm); Pool B: Korea v Ukraine (11am); Scotland v France (1pm).