Ireland women‘s coach Sean Dancer says next month’s Hockey World Cup qualifiers will be “cut throat” as the Green Army attempt to make it to next year’s showpiece in the Netherlands and Spain.
There are likely to be several retirements from the World Cup silver-winning team in the offing ahead of the knock-out qualifiers, which take place in Pisa, Italy from Oct 21-24.
Eight teams take part with only one World Cup ticket on offer.
Top-ranked Ireland – the world No 12 side – face France (27th) in the opening round.
Russia (20th) and Belarus (21st) lie in wait in the semi-finals, with the other side of the draw provisionally featuring hosts Italy (17th), Scotland (19th), Poland (23rd) and Wales (25th).
Dancer said: “It’s a cut-throat tournament. Scotland and Italy from the A division and then France with a lot to play for given the next Olympics in Paris, progressing well, it will be a really tough tournament and the reality is only the winner gets to go to the World Cup. Every game is a must-win.
“The way things have unfolded with the qualifiers in October and then hopefully doing well in the World Cup is really important for us. There will be some retirements and plenty of new players will get an opportunity to come in. That brings excitement and we need to harness that and push hard for the next six weeks.”
Dancer expects several players to step up from the under-23 development programme when the team reconvene on Monday for the first time since Tokyo.
“[Under-23 coach] Dave Passmore has done an excellent job over the summer,” added Dancer. “It is something that previously had been discussed as we knew there would some players stepping back from the programme and this group and so it was important that group was ready to step in when the time arrives.
“They had some really successful series, beating Wales seniors and GB’s development squad.”
Meanwhile, SoftCo have extended their current sponsorship with the senior women’s squad until the end of 2022 while also expanding their support to now be the under-23 side’s primary sponsor.
FIH Women’s World Cup 2022 – European qualifier
Thursday, October 21, quarter-final: Ireland v France, 11.30am
Saturday, October 23, semi-final: to be confirmed
Sunday, October 24, final: to be confirmed