The Irish women’s indoor compete this weekend at their highest level since 1990 as they contest the EuroHockey Indoor Championship II in Spain.
It promises to be a real baptism of fire for the fledgling panel who only returned to the international game in late 2019 after a long absence as they start their campaign on Friday against world number six side Poland before facing Belgium.
Also in the mix are Switzerland (seven in the world), Scotland and Spain who beat Ireland to third tier gold in early 2020.
As such, Ireland are self-professed “underdogs” in this six-team competition but coach Rob Abbott is thrilled about the prospect of facing such illustrious opposition.
“It’s exciting times,” he said on Tuesday evening. “It will be a huge challenge and we are playing some very established indoor nations. We are still developing, only back on the court for a couple of years.
“We start off against Poland, world ranking number six so we will give it a go but we are underdogs.”
In preparation, Ireland did get in a highly competitive three-game series against Scotland just before the turn of the year, winning one, drawing one and losing one of those fixtures.
In total, seven of that side made their international debuts with Emma Buckley, Mikayla Power and Lily Lloyd all keeping their spot of the newcomers from those games in Antrim.
Captain Orla Fox, sisters Orla and Sarah Patton, Amy Benson and Sophie Barnwell all retain their sport while there are four players coming into the fold.
Millie Regan joins Buckley on goalkeepeing duties while Holly Jenkinson, Hannah Kelly and Orla Macken are all coming in to make their indoor debuts.
For Jenkinson, it will be her third different international cap having represented Ireland already in netball and tag rugby in the past three years.
“Haha, I am trying to get as many international caps while I still can,” she says of the unique record and she says her previous experience will help her out when she hits the board.
“The whole setup of any international tournament – the travel, the training, the circumstances you are under, the competition, the pressure; all that is replicated in high performance sport and how you react is the same throughout. With netball and tag rugby, I can’t say it is the same skillset but it is still high performance which is similar!”
“I can’t say playing indoor for Ireland is something I dreamed about because I didn’t know if it is something that could or would exist until a few years ago.
“But since we have put a squad together and started to enter competitions, it was definitely a goal of mine. It’s different to outdoor and can be tough on the body, very fast paced so I wasn’t sure if I could make it but I have been aiming for it for some time and that’s why I am so excited.”
On the debit side from the Antrim games, Chloe Brown – top scorer in the series against Scotland – will be a big loss as she is unable to travel due to work commitments. Becky Maye, Katie Kimber, Becky McMullen and Laura Graham also miss out this time.
“The Europeans will be a very different challenge,” Abbott added. “Dave [Passmore] and the team in 2020 in Bratislava were exceptional, finishing runners-up in the C Division, bringing a medal home and, more importantly, promotion.
“Going up to the B division, it’s a different kettle of fish. First game, Poland ranked 6th, the Swiss have a world ranking of seven; the Belgians were preparing for the World Cup in February and then you have Scotland who we played the other week.
“It will be a great challenge and we will see if we can learn from every game. As long as the team improves and we come back with more knowledge, we can further improve the game of indoor here.
Ireland indoor panel for Euro Hockey Indoor Championship II; Ourense, Spain (club/caps)
Emma Buckley (Pembroke, 3)
Millie Regan (Old Georgian’s, 10)
Sarah Patton (Railway Union, 9)
Sophie Barnwell (Muckross, 13)
Holly Jenkinson (Railway Union, 0)
Orla Macken (Pembroke/North Kildare, 0)
Mikayla Power (Old Alex, 3)
Orla Fox (Railway Union, 15)
Orla Patton (Railway Union, 15)
Hannah Kelly (Catholic Institute, 0)
Lily Lloyd (Railway Union, 3)
Amy Benson (Ards, 14)
Euro Hockey Indoor Championship II (Ourense, Spain)
Friday, January 21: Ireland v Poland, 12.30pm; Ireland v Belgium, 5.30pm
Saturday, January 22: Ireland v Switzerland, 10am; Ireland v Scotland, 4.15pm
Sunday, January 23: Spain v Ireland, 1pm
Head Coach: Rob Abbott
Assistant Coach: Ross Willis
Manager: Gareth Myburgh
Physio: Amy Phelan
Video technician and analyst: Aaron Passmore