Nothing short of a clean sweep of victories will suffice for Ireland when they take on Italy in three internationals over the next few days as international hockey returns to the province for the first time in two years.
Ireland are using the games at Mossley and UUJ as part of the preparation for the next stage of the Olympic qualifying process, the World League 2 tournament in Valencia in June.
There they will be up against several teams that possess a higher world ranking so it’s important that the hosts lay down a marker and beat Italy, ranked two places lower in the world at 16th, in the trio of internationals beginning with tonight’s opener at Mossley (7.30pm).
The series will give several players the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the line up for the Spanish trip, including two Ulster women.
Michelle Harvey, formerly of Pegasus and now with Belgian side Leuven, was last included in the national squad for the Champions Challenge in Glasgow in May 2014 as part of the side that won a set of silver medals.
Since then, she has become one of the top scorers in the Belgian league with Leuven and could offer an important penalty corner option as well her vast experience.
“Michelle has been in excellent form and deserves the opportunity to stake a claim on a position for World League 3 in June.” said national coach Darren Smith.
Another player in a similar position is Ards striker Chloe Brown, who has played for her country more recently, but missed out on selection for the World League 2 tournament last month.
She finished the season with 22 goals at club level and helped Ards to an unprecedented trophy treble with successes in the Premier League, Ulster Shield and at the national indoor series.
The only total newcomer is Loreto striker Hayley Mulcahy, who will also be out to impress the coaching team over the next few days.
Twelve of the World League 2 squad remain with five UCD players – Ulster’s Katie Mullan, Chloe Watkins, Anna O’Flanagan, Nikki Evans and Gillian Pinder – rested after a busy period which saw them take part in the European Club Champions’ Cup and in the IHL semi-final in which they lost to eventual champions Pegasus.
Italy should provide tough, but beatable opposition and they, too, are preparing for the final stage of the Road to Rio as they will travel to Antwerp for the other World league 3 tournament.
They qualified by winning won their World League 2 in Uruguay in commanding fashion beating the hosts 4-0 in the final and Ireland will face the south Americans in Valencia in June in what will be their least difficult encounter as they are ranked 29 in the world.
Ireland squad: Emily Beatty (UCD), Chloe Brown (Ards), Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Aine Connery (Hermes), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Kate Dillon (Railway Union), Stella Davis (Pembroke Wanderers), Deirdre Duke (UCD), Megan Frazer (Ulster Elks), Michelle Harvey (Leuven, Belgium), Hannah Matthews (Loreto), Shirley McCay (Ulster Elks), Ayeisha McFerran (Pegasus), Ali Meeke (Loreto), Hayley Mulcahy (Loreto), Yvonne O’Byrne (Cork Harlequins), Cliodnha Sargent (Cork Harlequins), Emma Smyth (Railway Union).
Fixtures: tonight: Ireland v Italy (Mossley, 7.30pm); Saturday: Ireland v Italy (UU, 2pm); Sunday: Ireland v Italy (UU, 2pm).