Ireland fired up for World League challenge in Dublin

Ireland's Megan Frazer
Ireland's Megan Frazer

There is no shortage of important action on both sides of the border this weekend as Ireland begin their World League 2 bid in Dublin and Ards aim to move closer to the Ulster Premier League title.

World League 2 is the first phase of the qualifying process for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and Ireland need a top three finish in order to progress to the next stage.

Failure to achieve that objective would be nothing short of a disaster as the hosts go into the tournament as the highest ranked nation and so will be out to not only progress but do so in style by emulating the men’s achievement and winning the competition.

Five Ulster players are in national coach Darren Smith’s 18-strong squad - team captain Megan Frazer, her Ulster Elks team mate Shirley McCay, Loreto’s Lizzie Colvin, UCD’s Katie Mullan and Pegasus goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.

Frazer admits she knows next to nothing about Ireland’s opening opponents, Ukraine, who are ranked 24th in the world, or Turkey (39) but she expects Canada (22) to provide the biggest test in the group stages.

But first things first and Ireland will be hoping to make a winning start against Ukraine tomorrow (2.45pm) - a side that has posed problems for the Irish before Frazer’s time.

“I know very little about Ukraine but eastern European teams generally have a similar style - they play a lot of long balls and can be quite physical and hard to break down,” said the 24-year-old Ulster woman.

Ireland’s initial aim will be to finish top of Pool A which would give them a potentially less difficult quarter final tie against the bottom team in the other section.

That’s comprised of Belarus (ranked 19th in the world), Chile (20), Austria (26) and Lithuania (34).

Ireland rounded off their competitive build up last week when they lost all three games against a strong Great Britain side at Bisham Abbey.

However, national coach Darren Smith wasn’t too concerned about those results as they were part of a training camp which also included intensive sessions in between matches.

“We played well in patches and kept possession of the ball well at times but we also conceded some soft goals,” said the New Zealander.

“Most of the girls had also played a lot of club hockey in recent weeks so they had a complete break from training over the weekend but we’ve been working hard to prepare for the Ukraine game over the past few days.”

At domestic level, Pegasus kept their slim hopes of retaining the Ulster Premier League title alive earlier in the week after a 2-0 win over Lurgan at Upper Malone.

But the Ulster Elks are out of contention after going down to a 1-0 defeat against Randalstown.

Katherine McDowell’s first half goal earned Town maximum points while Vanessa Surgeoner and Hannah Grieve were on target for Pegasus in the last quarter of their game with Lurgan.

Ards are still odds-on favourites to lift the trophy as they need just four points from their remaining three matches to be crowned champions.

They face Lisnagarvey at Comber Road on Saturday and then take on Belfast Harlequins on Wednesday, March 18 at Ards Leisure Centre followed by the return fixture at Deramore three days later.