Ireland’s Green Army filtered back into camp next week following a month’s break in the wake of their maiden Olympic campaign as October’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Italy quickly come into view.
The event will take place in Pisa from October 21st to 24th with eight teams taking part from which only one side will earn a place at next summer’s showcase event.
For coach Sean Dancer, it is an uncharacteristically swift return to action with members of the Olympic panel returning to training on a phased basis, linking up on Monday and Tuesday at Abbotstown with members of the development panel.
From Dancer’s previous experience working with New Zealand in 2012 and 2016, there is usually a lengthy post-Games cooling off session but the nature of the Covid-19 affected calendar has brought this new qualifying event into view.
“I’m used to having a big ‘down’ period post the Olympics, the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one, getting everything ready and preparing for the next Olympics,” Dancer said of the packed calendar.
The format is a winner-takes-all scenario for the one remaining spot at the World Cup. Each game is a knock-out match with top-ranked Ireland (12th in the world) – barring any late changes in entry list – set to face the ever-improving France (27th) in the opening round.
Lying in wait in the semi-finals will be Russia (20th) and Belarus (21st) with the other side of the draw provisionally featuring hosts Italy (17th), Scotland (19th), Poland (23rd) and Wales (25th).
“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.”
On that front, Dancer has reassurance the step up from the Under-23 development programme should not be as dramatic as years gone by. That group underwent a busy summer schedule of their own with a wide group of players lining out in fixtures at home and abroad.
And Dancer confirmed a number of players will traverse the squads when they return to the pitch next Monday for training as a group for the first time since returning from Tokyo.
“[Under-23 coach] Dave Passmore has done an excellent job over the summer. 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.”
And that link between the two squads has been made even stronger with last week’s news 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.
“It’s amazing from SoftCo to continue sponsoring us and it is a big boost with the World Cup qualifier around the corner and new players coming into the group. It is a sponsorship that is hugely beneficial and supportive of the team.”
FIH Women’s World Cup 2022 – European qualifier (October 21 to 24, all in Pisa)
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