Larne woman Ayeisha McFerran says it’s time for Ireland to forget about past glories as the players shift their focus to pursuing their Olympic dream.
McFerran was voted goalkeeper-of-the-tournament at last year’s World Cup when Ireland captured the hearts of the nation by lifting the silver medals.
They went into the tournament ranked 16th in the world and after their heroics in London soared eight places up the list.
However, McFerran insists the fact that Ireland tore up the form book suggests others could do the same in the FIH Hockey series tournament which starts in Banbridge on Saturday.
Ireland should canter into the final of the pre-Olympic event without breaking much sweat and if they can do that, they will book a place in the last stage of qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
The hosts are up against Malaysia (ranked 22nd in the world), Czech Republic (19th) and Singapore (35th) in the first phase and will be hot favourites to come out on top.
In the other group, Korea (11th) should overcome lower-ranked Scotland, Ukraine and France and go on to meet Ireland in the decider on June 16.
McFerran said: “We’ve had to put aside all the hype of last year although we always knew we could do something special.”
“We’re a very talented group of girls and we definitely have the confidence and the belief that we can do something special again and qualify for Tokyo.
“But I also think we proved last year that anything can happen on any given day, so we will be going out and treating every opponent with respect.
“It’s about us performing to the level we know we can and if we can do that we will succeed in the tournament but if we don’t show up then things might not go the way we want.”
McFerran, one of seven Ulster players in the squad, expects the opening two games to be the toughest, based on past experience.
Ireland did beat Malaysia 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in the heat of Kuala Lumpur two years ago and were 3-1 winners over the Czechs at the last European Championship in Amsterdam in 2017.
McFerran added: “Malaysia are a very good side and coming from that Asian hockey culture, they are very skilful and very quick.
“They have been training full-time since January so it will be a very tough game for us and we are expect it will be the same against Czech Republic.
“World rankings mean nothing as we proved at the World Cup and all three group games are going to be difficult but we are ready for the challenge.”
And former Lurgan player Bethany Barr is on cloud nine after being named in the squad.
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.
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.”
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).