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Right place, right time, McAuley embracing the journey

When Sarah McAuley boarded the plane to Japan on Friday, it was the start of her longest journey both geographically and metaphorically.

Prior to departure, Spain is the furthest she has been before while her rise to the Irish women’s Olympic squad is similarly far-flung as she admits herself.

“I definitely didn’t expect it to come so soon,” the 19-year-old McAuley said. “At the start of last year, I was just training in the club. When I checked the list last week, I thought maybe I will go as a travelling reserve, you never know.

“I checked those straight away and then looked up a little bit and was like ‘oh my God, there’s my name!’ I couldn’t believe it. Right person, right place, right time – I just keep saying that to myself.”

It is a journey that started at Avoca’s Under-8s section where her mother organised the fixtures. Multi-talented, it was among a spate of sports on her agenda; she played tennis at Monkstown LTC with soon-to-be fellow Olympian Sarah Healy, named in Team Ireland’s athletics line-up, won a Dublin ladies football Division One Feile title with Kilmacud Crokes and also represented the county at the All-Ireland Feile skills competition.

Hockey, though, shone through from second year onwards at Muckross Park where she went on to play in the senior team for four successive seasons.

It has perhaps helped her get used to being “the young one”. In third year at Muckross, she won the Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup and took bronze at the All-Irelands under coach Una McCarthy.

McCarthy is the mother of Irish team mate Michelle Carey and McAuley hails her as a key influence and one who will be sorely missed at Muckross Park following her retirement this year.

Two Senior Premier League titles followed but another league success proved elusive with the 2020 cup final – scheduled to be against a Hannah Matthews’ coached Loreto Beaufort – cancelled due to Covid.

All along, Muckross alumni Anna O’Flanagan would flit in and out as a guest coach around her stint in the Netherlands, showing off her medal at the Marlborough Road school a number of years ago.

McAuley got a snap of it, one that she could compare to them lining out side by side at the Euros after her first – and only – formal cap.

“They say you should never meet your heroes but I totally disagree,” went the caption and McAuley says it did not take time to assimilate.

“In sixth year, I started to play with her in the club and she took a few sessions at school.

“Definitely, I looked up to these girls and now to be playing with them every day is a dream come true. They are not just team mates, now. They are friends – we hang out all the time and they are so lovely. It is cool!”

Despite the ease of the transition, she does admit is has taken her by surprise as the unfortunate knee injuries to Beth Barr and Zoe Wilson opened up an opportunity for a defensive reshuffle just a couple of months after she started training with the side.

“I came in with seven or eight younger girls around mid-November, coming up to Christmas. I thought I was just there to fill numbers.

“In January, I was part of the development squad and the core of the Under-23s but in February, I got to be part of those uncapped games against GB in Belfast.

“It was more delight to be able to have that opportunity to play them. Considering it was so close to Tokyo and the Europeans, I really didn’t think I would have the chance this summer. With the way things went with Covid and with the squad, I guess I was the right person, right place, right time.”

And take her chance she did. One of her first interventions off the bench was to flat-bat a tackle to nick the ball of Lily Owsley.

“I didn’t realise it! Once I get stuck into a game, I don’t really mind who I am playing against. It is just 11 versus 11, each with two hands, two feet, one stick.

“After it, I did think ‘wow, I was playing all those Olympians’. I was definitely a bit star-struck afterwards. Mabe I was a bit naïve and didn’t know what I was up against but more just enjoyed the experience.”

And that was how she was viewing the European Championships initially. Covid allowed for two extra reserves to travel to the event, a nice bonus to get the lie of the land before a couple of niggles in the central 18 gave her a chance to play in game five against Italy.

“Oh completely. I couldn’t wait to see even what happens in and around the tournament. I’d never been to Europeans underage so I didn’t know what to expect. When you are watching for that long on the sidelines, you are hoping for maybe a chance to play and lucky enough I got the last game.

Sarah McAuley carries team-mate Anna O’Flanagan during a Tokyo 2020 Team Ireland Announcement. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“I was absolutely raring to go at that stage! When it was me and Zara [Malseed, the other reserve], it was grand. We also had Gareth [Grundie] to take individual sessions on the side pitch with us but when Zara got her call, I had to do the session by myself; it was pretty rough when you see the other 19 players heading out. That was tough but it paid off.”

Again, she was assured and smart in the 3-0 win over the Italians, defensively astute while an audacious backhand pass from halfway into the D to pick out Deirdre Duke showed plenty of verve.

“The girls just said enjoy the day, enjoy that first cap. I was definitely soaking up the atmosphere. Once the game starts, you just try your best. Sean always tells me to ‘make a decision’ and I quite like my reverse – maybe I am more comfortable on that side! – so it came naturally.”

It inspired confidence and nudged her up above the line from reserves to the main Olympic squad. Right person, right place, right time!

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Strong start for Irish Under-19s in Four Nations series

Ireland’s young guns completed a clean sweep from their opening Under-19 Four Nations Development Series, winning four from four games against Wales at Jordanstown.

The girls ran up a 6-0 success on Saturday, backed up by a 5-0 victory on Sunday with two comprehensive displays.

In both ties, they got off to strong starts and never looked back with Eva Lavelle and Sophie Dix setting the tone in the first quarter of the opener. Ella Brown extended the lead to three before Emma Paul, Ali Griffin and Aisling Murray chipped in.

On Sunday, it was 2-0 by half-time with Cork’s Leah O’Shea setting the ball rolling with a rocket of a backhand shot before Murray nabbed her second of the weekend.

Corner goals from O’Shea and Milly Lynch stretched the lead further before Martha McCready rounded off the weekend in style.

Picture: Billy Pollock

On the boys side, it was a much tighter double-header with game one decided by just a single goal – scored in the ninth minute by … – decided the contest.

Game two was far more open. James Maginnis and Max Anderson fired Ireland into a 2-0 lead but Wales were back on terms early in the final quarter to leave it anyone’s game.

But a brilliant Louis Rowe deflection put Ireland back in front and the game was safe when Evan Jennings and Sam Walker slipped home a couple of close-range goals. Wales did get a third back from a penalty corner but Ireland held on for a 5-3 success.

Next on the agenda for Ireland’s Under-19 teams is a trip to Lilleshall to face England with games next Friday and Saturday.

Under-19 Four Nations Development Series
Girls

Saturday: Ireland 6 (E Lavelle, S Dix, E Brown, E Paul, A Griffin, A Murray) Wales 0
Sunday: Ireland 5 (L O’Shea 2, A Murray, M Lynch, M McCready) Wales 0

Boys
Saturday: Ireland 1 (M Anderson) Wales 0
Sunday: Ireland 5 (J Maginnis, M Anderson, L Rowe, E Jennings, S Walker) Wales 3

Next week’s fixtures

Friday, July 15: Ireland U-19 girls v England, 2.30pm; Ireland U-19 boys v England, 4.45pm (both at Lilleshall)
Saturday, July 16: Ireland U-19 girls v England, 9.30am; Ireland U-19 boys v England, 11.30am (both at Lilleshall)

Keep Walking, Keep Well

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Hockey Ireland Announces Three Year Sponsorship with AIB and Hockey Ireland’s Junior Age Group Girls

Hockey Ireland today announced a three-year long sponsorship with AIB and Hockey Ireland’s Junior Age Group Girls.

Hockey Ireland’s Junior Age Girls Group programme is comprised of the Under 18 and Under 16 squads that together form an important part of the sport’s high-performance pathway, enabling some of Ireland’s most talented young hockey players reach their full potential.

AIB Head of Corporate, Institutional and Wholesale Banking Cathy Bryce said:

“AIB is delighted to be sponsoring Hockey Ireland’s Junior Age Group Girls programme. At AIB we want to enable young people to achieve their true potential, and this sponsorship enables us to provide support to a key element of Irish hockey’s high performance programme.

“Few teams have brought as much joy and inspiration in recent times as the women’s senior hockey team and we are delighted to be able to support those who aspire to match their incredible achievements in future years.”

Hockey Ireland Performance Director Adam Grainger added this is a huge boost for the stars of the future:

“Hockey Ireland Junior Age Grade girls’ teams welcome AIB onboard and look forward to its sponsorship of the upcoming series Four Nations Development Series starting this weekend. This AIB and Hockey Ireland partnership adds extra impetus to immediate programme plans and further afield towards Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympic qualification.”

Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels added:

“AIB has a strong connection with hockey as a sport and we very much look forward to working together in the coming years at supporting our junior players which is at the heart of the young hockey players’ development programme.”

The announcement comes ahead of this month’s Under-19 Four Nations Development Series with England, Scotland and Wales which will run over three consecutive weekends with six rounds of matches in total for both boys and girls.

Ireland will host Wales at Jordanstown for their double-header next weekend before travelling to England on the weekend of July 16 and 17 at Lilleshall. The series finishes off with a return to Jordanstown against Scotland on July 24 and 25.

The series is the highlight of their summer for the teams as Ireland’s JAG teams get back into action for the first time since February 2020. It follows the cancellation of their European Championship campaign last summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic and so the players will be raring to go for this new challenge.

Four Nations Development Series 
Saturday, July 9: Ireland U-19 girls v Wales, 2pm; Ireland U-19 boys v Wales, 4pm (both at University of Ulster Jordanstown)
Sunday, July 10: Ireland U-19 girls v Wales, 10am; Ireland U-19 boys v Wales, 12.15pm (both at University of Ulster Jordanstown)

Saturday, July 16: Ireland U-19 girls v England, 2pm; Ireland U-19 boys v England, 4pm (both at Lilleshall)
Sunday, July 17: Ireland U-19 girls v England, 2pm; Ireland U-19 boys v England, 4pm (both at Lilleshall)

Saturday, July 24: Ireland U-19 girls v Scotland, 2pm; Ireland U-19 boys v Scotland, 4pm (both at University of Ulster Jordanstown)
Sunday, July 25: Ireland U-19 girls v Scotland, 10am; Ireland U-19 boys v Scotland, 12.15pm (both at University of Ulster Jordanstown)

** To read more about the JAG Under-19 squad, click here

** Further info on the JAG Boys Under-19 squad is here

Teenager O’Dea on the mark in Irish men’s series against GB

Cork man Kevin O’Dea netted his first senior international goal for Ireland in their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Olympic-bound Great Britain at Bisham Abbey on Thursday morning.

Just a few days since completing his Leaving Cert exams, he fired home with 10 minutes to go to raise hopes of nicking a result from the uncapped test match which forms part of their build-up to the European Championships II in Poland next month.

GB had take a 1-0 half-time lead and doubled up just before the end of the third quarter from a penalty stroke before Cork C of I’s O’Dea got one back. The hosts, however, struck in the final play to make the game safe.

Nonetheless, the series represents another step forward for coach Mark Tumilty after a 20-month gap in action prior to their recent series against Scotland. This week, Ireland lost game one to the full GB setup 4-0 and then beat their elite development squad 8-4.

Ben Walker scored four times in that second game while Michael Robson netted twice in the first half to see Ireland build a 3-2 lead with Walker getting the other.

And they raced clear in the second half with another three from the Three Rock Rovers man while Conor Empey and Daragh Walsh – two other products of the Rathfarnham club – also weighing in.

Like the recent series against Scotland, Tumilty tried out numerous new players and he says that trend will continue when they take on the Scots again in the coming weeks.

“It was great for Kevin O’Dea to score a week after completing his Leaving Cert,” Tumilty said. “I felt during all three games we tried to play attacking hockey and are developing our style of play. The players are getting more confident on the ball and this showed over the three games.

“We still have plenty of work to do as we build a squad and playing style that enables us to achieve our long term objectives.

“Overall a very worthwhile camp, our performance improved each game and was great experience for our younger players who grew as the week progressed.

“I am pleased with how the players are developing and I look forward to giving other players an opportunity against Scotland.”

Hockey Ireland welcomes continued Women in Sport funding

Hockey Ireland has welcomed Sport Ireland’s continued investment in its Women in Sport Programme which will provide €150,000 to the sport over the two years 2021 and 2022.

This investment aims to support NGBs and enhance all aspects of female involvement across the Women in Sport policy target areas, namely Coaching & Officiating, Active Participation, Leadership & Governance and Visibility.

Recognising that effective and sustainable programmes require a long-term approach, Sport Ireland is committed to a two-year Women in Sport investment cycle. The continuation of this two-year award cycle will enable NGBs to further progress their strategic objectives for women in sport.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin TD welcomed today’s announcement, stating: “Addressing the participation gap in sport and physical activity for women and girls is a priority of the National Sports Policy 2018-2027.

“In recent years we have seen some improvements in this area. The Government and Sport Ireland are committed to continuing this work with the aim of eliminating the participation gap by 2027. While the interim Q1 2021 Irish Sports Monitor, published by Sport Ireland, shows that the gender gap in participation has been eliminated during Covid-19 restrictions, there is a lot of work to do to ensure that more women and girls participate in sport and physical activity.

“As we gradually re-open society we must work to ensure sport and physical activity become a meaningful part of the day-to-day lives of all women in society”.

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht & Sport Jack Chambers TD commented: “The previous cycle of Women in Sport funding saw significant strategic advancements in the promotion of Women in Sport. Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, progress was made on many of the strategic objectives set out in the Women in Sport Policy.

“We are seeing the results of this work in the participation figures and also importantly in the board composition of NGBs, with an increase from 24% of females serving on NGB boards in 2019 to 29% in 2020. There is still a long way to go to improving these figures but the funding announced today will go towards promoting more involvement in sport and physical activity at all levels, from the pitch to the boardroom.”

Funding will be ring-fenced under Women in Sport for strategically important internal and NGB related events and projects under the ‘Special Projects’ funding. This may also be used to support organisations who did not apply for funding support in the current round.

In 2020, the sector delivered on a number of objectives set out in the Women in Sport policy and there were many projects of note throughout the year.

Chief Executive of Sport Ireland John Treacy added: “The appointment of Nora Stapleton as Women in Sport Lead in Sport Ireland, as well as the appointment of leads in many NGBs has led to the creation of a network with increased levels of information sharing, collaboration and delivery of joint initiatives amongst the sector.

“This network, along with the wider NGB sector are working hard to promote sport and physical activity to women and girls. The funding announced today will not only see a diverse range of sports available to the female Irish public but an increase in the visibility of females be that as role models on the pitch or playing field, on boards or in the media.

“It is important that we work together to achieve the ambitious targets and I would like to acknowledge the continued support of the Ministers and staff in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media”.

Dr. Una May, Director of Participation and Ethics, Sport Ireland commented: “The Women in Sport funding announced today will give the NGBs support and certainty to proceed with their programmes to address the target areas of the Women in Sport policy. In 2020 we saw some exciting and innovative approaches to Women in Sport including the first ever Girls Get Active Hackathon and the publication of significant pieces of research. There is a lot more planned for 2021 and beyond and we continue to work closely with the sector to achieve the objectives of the Policy”.

Speaking at today’s announcement, Women in Sport Lead Nora Stapleton said: “2020 was a difficult year and like all areas across the sector, many Women in Sport programmes and events were curtailed or had to be redesigned. Many programmes will continue in to 2021 and the NGBs have submitted applications for many new, innovative and exciting projects for the next cycle and I look forward to working with them”.