HOCKEY: Zoe Wilson settling into role as Ireland regular

Zoe Wilson has established herself as a regular in the starting line-up for Ireland.
Zoe Wilson has established herself as a regular in the starting line-up for Ireland.

Only five years after scoring the winning goal for Ballyclare High School in the Senior Cup final, Zoe Wilson has established herself as a member of the Ireland starting line-up.

The 19-year-old is currently in Kuala Lumpur for the World League 2 tournament and, on Saturday, Ireland begin their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan.

Wilson says Ireland will have high hopes of not only securing the finish they need but winning the tournament outright.

Graham Shaw’s girls go into the event ranked second-highest out of the eight competing teams, with only Italy, at 15, occupying a loftier place on the world ladder.

Ireland, who are 16th in the world, can afford to finish third overall and still earn a place in the next stage of the qualifying process but they have set their sights higher.

After Saturday’s clash with Kazakhstan,ranked 33rd in the world, Ireland then play Malaysia (21st) and Hong Kong (37th) as they aim to top their group before going into the knock-out stages to determine the final standings.

Italy, Thailand (31st), Wales (32nd) and Singapore (43rd) make up the other group and if Ireland can top theirs, then they will face the team that finishes fourth in the other pool in the quarter-finals.

The squad, including four other Ulster players, arrived in the balmy heat of the Malaysian capital 11 days ahead of the tournament and so have had plenty of time to acclimatise to the conditions.

“When we trained on the first day, the heat and humidity was overwhelming as it’s something most of us hadn’t experienced before.” Zoe explained.

“However, since then we have had more sessions and have been surprised how quickly we have become used to the conditions, although the real test will be playing competitive games on consecutive days.

“We are going to be wearing our new sleeveless strip and the first few matches are scheduled for evenings when, hopefully, it will be a little cooler.

“Even before we left home, the squad had been working really hard particularly on our fitness and the Ulster girls had early morning gym sessions at Total Performance Fitness in Dundonald.

“We have researched the teams that are in the tournament although it will be our first encounter with some of them.”

“As hockey has progressed it is now fine margins that separate the top teams and so it is important in tournaments like this that we perform well and, of course, we want to start off 2017 by winning the event outright.”

Meanwhile, in the Ulster Premier League, leaders Lurgan will be confident of making it nine wins in a row when they travel to North Down while two of the champions’ main challengers, Ballymoney and Queen’s, meet head-on at the Joey Dunlop Centre.