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World Cup and Olympic star Holden confirms her international retirement

Lizzie Holden (née Colvin) has confirmed her retirement from international hockey following a history-making 13-year career that brought World Cup silver, an Olympic appearance and 206 caps.

The 31-year-old steps away having made her debut as a teenager, fresh out of Portadown College at a hail-stoning Garryduff at June 2008’s Celtic Cup, finishing off in the searing Tokyo heat this summer.

The effervescent midfielder has run the gamut of emotions from qualifier heartbreakers to those glorious 2018 summer days in London and everything in between, seemingly always bringing out the widest of smiles.

“I always felt the Olympics was going to be my last dance,” she said of her decision to step back. “I had gone back and forth in my head for a long time but I think it is the right time for me to step away”

“We were so intense as a team for so long and we would spend weeks together on tour. Im just sad that I don’t get to see my friends every day now.”

Lizzie Colvin celebrates Olympic qualification with Nicci Daly. Pic: Inpho

“I feel that I have finished my career on a high and having spent the time thinking about this decision, I’ve had an opportunity to reminisce about so many good memories over the years with current and past players and I’ve made life-long friends. I’ve been very lucky to travel around the world and share such unique experiences with a great group of people.”

Her earliest beginnings came at Armagh Hockey Club, playing her part in their incredible rise with several successive promotions to reach the top tier of Ulster and Irish hockey.

From those early years, she played alongside a wealth of future internationals like Alex Speers, Emma and Amy Stewart, Hannah Bowe and Rachel Mulligan with Niall McCool and Mick McKinnon leading the coaching team.

“This announcement is mainly about saying thank you to everyone who has been part of my hockey journey, both on and off the hockey pitch. I want to make a special mention to Armagh Hockey Club, all the parents, coaches and volunteers who helped me through and had such a profound impact on me, particularly the late George Compston – he was my first coach.

“Then when I moved down to Dublin, everyone in Loreto was so kind and supportive of me and allowed my confidence to grow as a player. Then when I moved back up North to play for Belfast Harlequins, they made me feel so welcome and as one of their own. All three of clubs have been such important influences to me at different stages of my career. ”

“At Armagh, we used to train so hard and you’d never question it. I think back on those days; after you’ve done a full hour and a half session on the pitch and you would go straight on to the football pitch and do shuttles back in forth, usually in the rain! I think that’s where i developed my hard work ethic and a really, really gritty determination.”

At the 2019 EuroHockey Championships

It also opened her eyes to a different world. Armagh went on trips to the Netherlands, taking on Den Bosch in their youth, while McKinnon – who was Ireland’s assistant coach in Tokyo – organised for national coach Gene Muller to drop into the club for a session.

“To have that exposure at such a young age, you did not really appreciate it. We were turning up to training and having the craic with all the girls, but actually we had fantastic exposure to some really top quality coaches and players.”

When Muller got in touch, though, it took a long time for him to get an answer to her first international call.

“I was laughing about this with my Dad there the other day. Back in the day, you wouldn’t have email on your phone and I remember just logging in to my emails one night, and there had been this one email sitting in my inbox for a couple of days, Gene Muller asking if I wanted to play in some uncapped games against South Africa in Dublin!

“You’d never sit on that for as long as i did! I remember being terrified going down to Dublin but I was so lucky there were so many of the girls from the Armagh team in the squad. I remember Gene saying to me you’ll be doing well if you trap the ball and a make a pass on your first cap.”

That came at that Celtic Cup a month after she finished school, a 1-0 win against France during a drenched weekend. A picture remains of everyone cramming into the dugout for one rain delay.

College brought her to Dublin at Trinity to study law; she linked up with a Loreto side going through a golden era of sorts with Nikki Symmons, Cathy McKean, Niamh Small, Louisa Healy and Clodagh Grealy taking her under their wing.

Colvin, third from left, takes shelter during her first international weekend at the Celtic Cup. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Internationally, she shone at the Champions Challenge II in Kazan in 2009, scoring in her first two tournament games, but it was that year’s European Championships that stuck in the mind.

“We lost 7-0 to Germany. I really enjoyed the game even though we lost because of the quality of it but I remember vividly one of the german players being interviewed afterwards, saying ‘well, you know, they weren’t very good’.

“I remember thinking that I’d love to beat them some day. It took nearly 10 years to really start to compete against Germany but, we drew against them [in the 2019 Euros] and beat them in Germany. I wanted to compete against the best in the world.”

Like many others of that time, a highlight was the December 2011 tour to Argentina, particularly the tie deep on the country’s interior on the banks of the Parana river.

“I know everyone talks about it, but it really was a stand-out memory; we were playing high quality games against the number two in the world and it was just such a fantastic atmosphere.

With her World Cup silver medal

“They had obtained an old pitch which had been rolled up and transported down to the club we were playing at and the club members laid the pitch. And I remember some the other teams giving off about the quality of the pitch and how the ball skipped.

“But I just remember thinking this is just so cool and special. During the anthems, the PA went off and the Argentian team had to sing acapella and the whole stadium just erupted with singing. You could feel the passion and excitment in that stadium and we certainly thrived on that during the match.”

Her first Olympic cycle ended with a 4-1 final qualifier defeat to Belgium in Beerschot. She took a while to process that situation, taking time out to take stock. Only a few weeks after accepting an invitation back into the panel from Darren Smith, she suffered an ACL injury, putting her back on the sidelines for another year.

Despite the setbacks, with the “incredible” medical supports she received, she returned stronger than ever and, in Smith, had a coach to help elevate her game and the Irish team to be greater contenders.

“Darren really did give me a lot of confidence to accept the type of player that I am and what skill I could bring. He made everyone feel like they had a role.

“He really lifted us and gave us the confidence to have a go and compete against the top teams teams in the world. I think we showed that hunger and desire in Valencia [at the 2016 Olympic qualifiers] and ultimately we played above our ranking and topped the pool. We then had to deal with the heartbreak of the China game. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the back!

“After that, I didn’t know if I would go back to play. I was just heartbroken; I had to finish off my exams and go back to work and I was living away from home and away from my boyfriend and just thought I don’t want to do this.

“But after taking a bit of time off, I knew that I had unfinished business with my hockey career. I was very lucky that the team welcomed me back and gave me the chance to play again. I definitely felt there was a shift in the mindset of the team since the Rio qualifiers and there was a quiet determination to make it to the World Cup.

“We had come along way as team and our style has developed over the years. It was attacking. It was aggressive. And it’s just really fast and really exciting.”

Not that it was not fraught, qualifying for London by “the skin of our teeth”, Holden hitting the winner against India that ultimately got them over the line in a 2-1 win over India.

Having spent a decade to reach the elite stage, she says the pressure was off when they rocked up to London and defied all expectations.

“We were just having the time of our lives. There was a lot of confidence, but also we were all comfortable and relaxed. That really played into it, because we knew that there wasn’t an expectation.

“The weather was amazing; we were staying in a nice hotel in the middle of London. We were enjoying the experience and I think it showed on our faces in that first game against America, winning against a very top quality side. From there, the momentum just kept going and going.”

Following the 2021 European Championships with her long-time team mates

“The standout moment was when we lined up for the anthem and we saw our family and friends that had travelled over, it was a celebration about how far we had come.”

It brought the Olympics into focus like never before, ratcheting up a notch on two more rain-drenched nights in Donnybrook, getting by the challenge of Canada in a shoot-out after two intense 0-0 draws.

The 2020 vision became 2021, pushing back the Tokyo dream 12 months and bringing in doubts about what next?

“I’m not gonna lie; there was a couple of months where it was really difficult because we couldn’t travel abroad and get match practice.”

“That first trip to Spain we went on in January [this year] felt like we were going to the World Cup again because we were so excited. Just to get out to a different country and play; it was really, really good fun.

“I was just so grateful to have that opportunity to keep playing. The preparations for this past summer were extremely tough but I tried to enjoy every moment and savour the experience.”

“Sean [Dancer] gave me the opportunity to represent Ireland at the Olympics and I look back and know that I’ve been part of such a special group of people who have faced so many challenges of the years. There have been so many highs and lows but I ‘ve always tried to give my best, to battle hard and never give up. It has been such a privilege to be part of the green army team and I hope that I’ve left the jersey in a better place.”

As for the Olympic reflections, it is a mixed bag – a once in a lifetime experience but one tinged with frustration as Ireland missed out on the quarter-final spots.

“It took me a couple weeks to process; it’s very hard to realise what you’re going through at the time. There’s a reason why it is the most competitive tournament in the hockey calendar or in any sport in the world; it is just unbelievably tough.

“You have to get everything right at the right time and try not to be overwhelmed by the experience of just being at the Olympics, surrounded by so many incredible athletes. I have a newfound respect for any athlete that is able to get on the podium because it is just so, so tough.

“It was a life long dream for me and I will never forget walking down that street in the Olympic village with all the flags and up to the Olympic rings.

With husband Matthew and her Olympic jersey

“The first night when we played against South Africa, it was hard that there weren’t any fans there but at the same time it was just so emotional for us to say that we have finally arrived after so many years of hard work.

“There is frustration that we didn’t progress further but I definitely believe that there’s a hunger and desire in the team to push as far as they can go. Its a really exciting stage for the green army and I can’t wait to see the girls put their stamp on the upcoming tournaments.”

“I think we’re in safe hands. So yeah, I’m just really sad it’s over for me and I don’t get to do it again.”

She jokes it is back to “normal life” with her husband Matthew and her parents, Peter and Rosie who she is forever grateful too – along with her employers, DWF solicitors – for their patience and understanding as she pursued her dreams.

“I could not have played hockey as long as I have without the support of my family, friends and my husband, Matt. I can never thank him enough for all the sacrifices he has had to make for me. Now that I’ve retired, we’ve never spent this much time together but I’m excited for the next chapter in our lives, whatever that will be!”

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Tumilty adds key experience for senior men’s World Cup qualifiers

** Ireland celebrate Sam Hyland’s debut goal against Malaysia. Picture: Billy Pollock

Mark Tumilty reckons experience could be key at the win or bust men’s World Cup qualifiers which get underway next week in Cardiff.

World number 14 ranked Ireland need to win their first two games – starting off against 23rd rated Russia on Thursday, October 21st in the quarter-final – to land a place at the 2023 showpiece event to be played in India.

It has been a quick turnaround time since August’s EuroHockey Championship II campaign in Poland where a fresh-faced Green Machine, featuring eight tournament debutants, took bronze in a first competitive outing in almost two years.

Since then, the vastly experienced Olympian Conor Harte has returned to the fold. Luke Madeley, Jamie Carr and Lee Cole are also available having missed out on playing time at the Euros when they were deemed close contacts in the lead-up to the event.

For Carr and Madeley, it was especially frustrating as they spent 10 days in a Gniezno hotel in quarantine but, all going well, Tumilty feels the extra know-how in big game situations will be invaluable

“There is more experience in this squad and, with the straight knockout format of the tournament, I feel experience will be very important” Tumilty said of selection.

“With Lee Cole and Luke Madeley available along with Tim Cross and Conor Harte, we have plenty of experience in our back four. The other big positive in the squad is that Luke Madeley, Lee Cole, Conor Empey and Conor Harte offer good attacking penalty corner options in addition to Shane O’Donoghue.

“With the Euros, due to Covid and availability, we were lighter in our penalty corner options; it was an important component of my selection decision to ensure we have more penalty corner options on the pitch at all times.”

Of the other changes, Neal Glassey is likely to be deployed in midfield rather than at the back while Sam Hyland and Conor Empey – who both scored on debut last week in a series against Malaysia – have retained their place in the 18-player central panel.

“Neal gives us a more defensive-minded midfielder which I feel is important for this tournament. It is unfortunate for Kevin O’Dea to miss out but he definitely has a great international future ahead of him.

Ireland men’s head coach Mark Tumilty. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“Conor has done well in the Dutch Hoofdklasse, scoring a few goals there and against Malaysia last week. Sam brings something different, too; I like his playing style and he has excellent basics which I feel is very important at the highest level. He also plays a big role in penalty corner attack and defence. They are two guys who have done the hard work and deserve their opportunity next week.”

In total, there are 11 of the Euros panel who saw game time are retained. Carr and Mark Ingram are the goalkeepers named with Harte, Madeley, Cole, Empey and Hyland coming in for Fergus Gibson, Ian Stewart, Ben Nelson, James Milliken while Mark McNellis and O’Dea are the travelling reserves this time out.

The two-game series against Malaysia was an opportune one, winning the first 3-2 before getting a reality check in a 4-2 defeat to the speedy tigers.

The matches came along at short notice with Lisnagarvey able to accommodate the fixtures under Malaysia’s UK visas for a tour which also encompasses England and Wales.

“Lisnagarvey have been fantastic to work with over the past 15 months. They have been very accommodating with regards to hosting Ulster regional sessions, national sessions, the EDP series and most recently the Malaysia games. Gail Geddis and the Lisnagarvey committee deserves a special mention for the work they have put into hosting the Malaysia games.”

And the lessons learned from that second game will be crucial when it comes to the qualifiers.

“We’re playing knock-out hockey in Cardiff and there’s no room for a bad period in the game at any stage as we found out against Malaysia. We conceded 3 goals in a very short space of time in Quarter 1 which proved costly and a good lesson in how a game an go away from you very quickly”.

“That’s one of the reasons to go with experience, so we have the players can deal with that pressure. We need to execute in both circles when it is really needed. I have confidence this group of players can deliver. It will be tough tournament and I would say that any two [of the eight] teams participating have the ability qualify for the World Cup. Our focus is our first game and we will need to produce a very good performance against Russia to progress to the semi-final to have the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup.”

First up are Russia, ranked lower but they did contest a higher level of European competition during the summer in June, scoring plenty of goals despite finishing last.

Tumilty pored over those videos and says they are a good side who play an attacking style of hockey. They have some excellent players with their main strength being in midfield. This was reflected in a strong performance from club side Dinamo Elektrostal in the Euro Hockey League when putting it up to Dutch giant SV Kampong.

“They are definitely a talented side with a goalscoring threat as they proved in the European Championship this summer”

“We go into the tournament well prepared and with a strong squad. It is a matter of whether we can deliver to take that next step and get to a major tournament. It would be massive boost for this senior men’s team to qualify again for a World Cup. It’s a big challenge but is one I certainly believe this group of players have the ability to overcome.”

Should Ireland win that tie, they will face either Wales or Italy on Saturday, October 23 for a place at the World Cup.

Ireland men’s squad for World Cup qualifiers (club/caps)
Jamie Carr (GK, KHC Leuven, 34)
Mark Ingram (GK, Pembroke, 27)
Tom Cross (Annadale, 22)
Luke Madeley (KHC Leuven, 23)
Lee Cole (Monkstown, 90)
Conor Harte (KHC Dragons, 254)
Peter McKibbin (Lisnagarvey, 8)
Kyle Marshall (Old Georgians, 7)
Shane O’Donoghue (Glenanne, 197)
Sean Murray (captain, KHC Leuven, 85)
Neal Glassey (Crefelder HTC, 67)
Daragh Walsh (KHC Leuven, 58)
Michael Robson (Annadale, 120)
Johnny McKee (Banbridge, 49)
Conor Empey (SCHC, 2)
Sam Hyland (YMCA, 2)
Ben Walker (Braxgata, 42)
Jeremy Duncan (Monkstown, 63)

Travelling reserves
Matthew Nelson (Lisnagarvey, 69)
Kevin O’Dea (UCD, 7)

Head Coach: Mark Tumilty
Assistant coach: Jason Klinkradt
Manager: Neil Irwin
Physical trainer: Eoin Cunniffe
Physio: Cameron Steele
Video technician: Ross Willis

 
FIH Men’s World Cup 2023 – European qualifier (Cardiff, October 21-24, 2021)
Thursday, October 21: Ireland v Russia, 4pm
Saturday, October 23: semi-final
Sunday, October 24: final/classification matches

** Full tournament information here: https://tms.fih.ch/competitions/1361

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Sean Dancer names new look Irish women’s side for World Cup qualifiers

Irish women’s coach Sean Dancer has named an 18-player central panel and two travelling reserves ahead next week’s vital World Cup qualifying competition which takes place in Pisa from October 21st to 24th.

The eight-team competition will be played in a knock-out format with only one side earning a place at next summer’s World Cup which will be played at venues in Spain and the Netherlands.

Ireland (12th ranked) meet France (27th) in their first game on October 21st (10.30am, Irish time) with the winner going on to play either Russia (20th) or Belarus (21st). Scotland (19th), Poland (23rd), Italy (17th) and Wales (25th) are on the other side of the draw.

Dancer’s central panel features 15 of the squad that travelled to the Olympic Games July with Niamh Carey, Erin Getty and Ellen Curran coming into the line-up.

“I am excited about the future and the balance within the squad,” coach Dancer said of his selection. “We have retained a lot of experience and have a lot of excitement coming through. It sits really nicely.”

For the players coming in, they have been aided by a comprehensive summer program with the Irish development squad, overseen by David Passmore which has been a fruitful avenue for those making the step up.

UCD’s Niamh Carey joins her twin sister Michelle in the panel and is on course to make her first capped international appearance in the quarter-final against France. She has been part of the panel for most of the past year and lined out against Great Britain in a couple of challenge matches.

New cap Niamh Carey. Picture: Billy Pollock

Queen’s University’s Erin Getty was one of the guiding lights of the summer developmental series to force her way back into senior international reckoning. The Queen’s University player earned eight caps in 2017 and 18 before a number of injuries set back her progress.

Pembroke’s Ellen Curran is another to return to the line-up. With 24 caps to her name, she was involved with the Green Army setup in the early phases of 2020, touring South Africa, prior to the postponement of the Games to 2021.

“Niamh has been in and around the senior group previously and has built on her strength on the ball and is scoring goals. She is very dangerous as an attacking player and we hope she will continue that.

“Erin played for Ireland before but never previously with me due to a long term injury which put her out for a while but, to her credit, she has worked really hard to get back into a position to be in the green shirt again.

“For Ellen, she had issues around her calf and ankle which didn’t make things easy for her but, once again, she took that time to work on areas we wanted her to. Credit to her, she staked her claim for a spot now and looking forward to seeing her use her speed and skill to create some havoc.

Of the Tokyo panel, Shirley McCay, Hannah Matthews, Lizzie Colvin and Nicci Daly have since stepped back from the program as have Nikki Evans and Grace O’Flanagan.

Reflecting on that changing of the guard, coach Dancer said it is “a natural” progression for the side in the wake of the Olympic Games, paying tribute to their immense contributions to the cause.

“It’s amazing how much effort the players have put into not just the last three years but the last eight to ten years to qualify for their first ever Olympics, giving it everything they’ve got,” Dancer said.

“It is natural some will step away and, for others, they needed a good break to refresh and get back to life, work, family and social things. I wanted to make sure everyone got a good break and once all the dust had settled, it certainly great to have a lot of experience in the group.

“Anna O’Flanagan, Chloe, Róisín, Ayeisha, Lena, Katie, Deirdre – we do have a huge amount there from the Olympics and beyond. We have to draw on that first of all and expect those guys to stand up under pressure which I certainly know they will.

“The flip side is the excitement. We have players who have never had a test match before; first ever event and they get to try qualify for a World Cup.”

The tournament also allows for two travelling reserves with Charlotte Beggs and Jane Kilpatrick joining the panel in Pisa.

While first opponents France are the lowest-ranked side in the competition, Dancer is more than wary of what they have to offer. With the Paris Games in mind, they have been working together close to full-time for a number of years and a silver medal at this summer’s EuroHockey Championship II shows they are on thr rise.

“France has been preparing well, not just this year, but with 2024 in their sights and getting there as host nation, they have a lot to play for. They did really well in the European Division 2 tournament. First team to meet, it will not be easy but we have to back our experience and what we have done in the last 18 month to get over the top of them.”

Irish senior women’s panel for World Cup qualifiers (club/caps):
Ayeisha McFerran (SV Kampong, Netherlands, 110)
Lizzie Murphy (Loreto, 13)
Lena Tice (Old Alex, 119)
Róisín Upton (Catholic Institute, 86)
Hannah McLoughlin (UCD, 24)
Sarah McAuley (UCD, 6)
Sarah Hawkshaw (Railway Union, 43)
Michelle Carey (UCD, 7)
Katie Mullan (captain, Ballymoney, 203)
Ellen Curran (Pembroke, 24)
Sarah Torrans (Loreto, 31)
Chloe Watkins (Monkstown, 234)
Zara Malseed (Ards, 4)
Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute, 119)
Niamh Carey (UCD, 0)
Deirdre Duke (Old Alex, 151)
Anna O’Flanagan (Muckross, 217)
Erin Getty (Queen’s, 8)

Travelling reserves
Charlotte Beggs (Ulster Elks, 0)
Jane Kilpatrick (Belfast Harlequins, 0)

Head coach: Sean Dancer
Assistant coaches: Gareth Grundie, David Fitzgerald
Manager: Lisa Jacob
Physical trainer: Claire Brady
Physio: Stephen Brownlow
Video Technician: Mark Kavanagh

FIH Women’s World Cup 2022 – European Qualifier; Pisa, Italy (October 21 to 24, 2021)
Thursday, October 21: Ireland v France (10.30am, Irish time)
Saturday, October 22: Semi-finals / classification matches
Sunday, October 23: final / classification matches

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Hannah Matthews confirms her retirement from international hockey

Olympian and 2018 World Cup silver medalist Hannah Matthews has confirmed her retirement from international hockey having been a crucial figure in the Green Army’s rise over the past seven years and 157 caps.

Since making her debut in 2014, the Loreto woman has been one of the first names on the team sheet, being an ever-present at each major tournament during that time.

“It’s 150 more caps than I thought I would ever get,” she said in the wake of her decision. “There was a long period where I wasn’t involved but once I got in, it was a case of grabbing the opportunity and I have enjoyed every second of it.

Matthews is something of a rarity as a “one-club” player, lining out for Loreto since she was eight-years-old, combining club life with her successful school days at Loreto Beaufort. With them, she scored the winning goal in the Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup final in 2008 in a 2-1 success against Alexandra College. The likes of Mary Barnwell, Paula O’Donoghue and Eimear Campion proved the best of mentors during those years.

In action in 2018 at Belfield against China. Picture: Adrian Boehm

Scoring big goals became a habit in those early years. While still a teenager – under the tutelage of future Irish coach Graham Shaw – she won the inaugural Women’s Irish Hockey League title in 2009 and, a year later, took the Irish Senior Cup final win against Railway Union; Matthews was raised and carried aloft by her team mates when she scored the winning penalty stroke.

They are the kind of early career highlights that often lead to instant Irish call-ups but the now 30-year-old had to bide her time, a difficult situation but one, in hindsight, widened her horizons.

“I don’t know what other people thought but I did have that expectation. I played Under-16, Under-18, Under-21 and I saw other people getting called in and you do start to think ‘this is not going to happen for me’. I worked on what I could work on and when the opportunity came, I was very much ready for it at 23. I had my college years, had a social life and so it worked out pretty well and I was lucky!

“I was playing away with Loreto and that was such a big thing for me, lining out in such a competitive team who wanted to play at a high standard.

“One year, I just sucked it up and worked on my fitness and got a call-up. I almost didn’t go to the trial weekend because it was in the middle of my teaching practice but I went and haven’t looked back since.”

That call came from coach Darren Smith who she reckons wans’t “a huge fan of mine at the start but he kept an open mind and called me in. I owe so much to him”.

From her debut In the idyllic vineyard setting in Mori, she describes it as a “whirlwind” from the devastation of missing out on the Rio Olympics to winning the EuroHockey Championship II a couple of weeks later.

“Darren wanted me to get in there, make my debut, get my cap as quickly as possible. He set a tone of a professional squad. Everyone took it so seriously, it was such a self-driven team which he ran from above. It was a great environment to come into. Obviously, it is everyone’s dream to play in an Olympics so that next summer was really tough to take but it did drive us.”

Making a key tackle in the World League Round 2 final against Canada. Picture: Adrian Boehm

That drive propelled Matthews and the side through the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign and ultimately becoming part of Irish sporting legend with the silver medal.

“You still look back and think it was almost like a holiday compared to Tokyo! We were having the time of our lives. It was so close to heartbreak all over again when you look back [at the qualifiers in South Africa].

“Grace [O’Flanagan] came off the bench, made that incredible save against India and it was such a game-changer, something we have in the memory bank that whatever happens, we can come through it. The road that got us there was definitely important and I would not change it.”

She became a softly-spoken but powerful voice within the team, notably speaking up about the side’s search for a sponsor in the months before the London madness that summer.

“It is hard to boil it down to money but it makes such a difference. Like if we hadn’t had them, we would have been booted out of our hotel in the World Cup because we overstayed our welcome! Little things like that don’t even cross your mind.

Celebrating a victory in the 2018 World Cup. Picture: Getty/FIH

“SoftCo and Park Developments allowed us go part-time and train professionally. If we are going to compete against the best, we have to have the resources and facilities to do so. We have to players who can commit to it, staff who can commit to it. It was so difficult when we just came together on a Sunday and then training regionally during the week.”

During that time, she was able to jobshare her teaching role at the Holy Trinity National School in Leopardstown. She is forever grateful for the school and her colleagues to allow her to do so, a healthy situation she knows was an option not afforded to a number of her team mates.

She did not think she would be in that position for quite so long, though, once Olympic qualification for Tokyo was in the bank.

“Of all the things you try to envision, you could never forsee a global pandemic. You just start thinking this might not happen for us. Up until Christmas, I kept checking any social media or news to see what was happening.

“It was worth the wait. For me, it certainly put things in perspective. I always knew I was going to retire after the Olympics. It was almost like another bite of the cherry for preparation and I went into the year wanting to enjoy every second of it, whether I got picked or not.

“I wanted to walk off and say I played my best hockey and enjoyed it. That was very freeing and I do think I played some of my best stuff in an Irish jersey compared to the year before.”

Celebrating Olympic qualification. Picture: Inpho

Having given her all in Japan, she is content to step back despite current Irish coach Sean Dancer keeping the door open for a comeback if she is keen

“100% – it was a decision I took a while to make. I didn’t take it lightly and I was honest with Sean. He was brilliant that I could have that honest conversation and it didn’t affect my selection for the Olympics or personal issues.

“It’s lovely to still be wanted but it is the right time in my life. There’s things I have put on hold and people who have put their lives on hold for me so it is time to grow up!

“It certainly hasn’t been easy but we have had great moments and great highlights over the years. Stepping away from it, I am just so grateful for every bit of it – the people I have met along the way, the people who have supported me who have been incredible.

“Now it’s time for teaching and enjoying club hockey! I’m really looking forward to this club season and a nice normal life, maybe slowing down a little bit!”

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Malaysia bounce back to share series with Irish men

** Picture: Billy Pollock

Men’s senior international
Ireland 2 (J Duncan, L Madeley) Malaysia 4 (R Rahim 2, A K Azrai, N Hassan)

Ireland had to settle for a shared series with world number 11 side Malaysia as a run of four goals in 11 minutes saw the Asian side prevail 4-2 at Lisnagarvey.

Like the game on Tuesday, the Green Machine got off to a fast start with Tim Cross going close in the opening 10 seconds before Jeremy Duncan put Ireland 1-0 up in the third minute from a fast counter-attack.

Malaysia, though, were quick to respond with Razie Rahim scoring twice within a minute from two penalty corners to swap the lead.

Abu Kamal Azrai got the third when neat work on the baseline set him up with his shot just getting over the line before a diving clearance proved centimetres too late. Najib Hassan added a fourth in the 22nd minute to put Malaysia almost out of sight.

Ireland had the best of the second half, winning a string of penalty corners in the third and fourth quarters, but only had a Luke Madeley switched effort to show for their efforts with two minutes to go.

The series has given coach Mark Tumilty food for thought ahead of the World Cup qualifiers which begin on October 21st in Cardiff with a date against Russia.

Ireland: J Carr, T Cross, M Nelson, D Walsh, N Glassey, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J Duncan, B Walker, C Harte
Subs: L Madeley, K O’Dea, P McKibbin, M Robson, C Empey, S Hyland, M Ingram

Malaysia: H Othman, M Jalil, A Hamsani, S Cholan, F Ashari, S Silverius, R Rahim, F Jali, A Hasan, A K Azrai, N Jazlan
Subs: N Hassan, N Sumantri, F Saari, A Zain, A Rozemi, H Abdul, Z P Mizan

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Empey and Hyland enjoy dream scoring debuts as Ireland beat Malaysia

Conor Empey, right, celebrates his winning goal against Malaysia, October 5 2021, Men’s Hockey International; Comber Road, Lisnagarvey. Picture: Billy Pollock

Men’s senior international
Ireland 3 (C Empey 2, S Hyland) Malaysia 2 (A K Azrai, R Rahim)

Conor Empey and Sam Hyland both enjoyed dream debuts as they scored for the Irish men’s side against Malaysia, the former netting the winner with just three minutes to go at Lisnagarvey.

Incredibly, Hyland had opening the scoring with his first international touch two minutes in before Empey got his first of the night soon after.

Malaysia stormed back with Abu Kamal Azrai and Razie Rahim hitting the net but Empey swooped with time running out for a memorable 3-2 success.

For coach Mark Tumilty, he was delighted to get the win over the 11th ranked Malaysians while also seeing his young guns make an impact.

“It was a very fast game and probably represent quite a bit of what we will face from Russia [in the World Cup qualifiers],” Tumilty said.

“It was good to win against a nation ranked above us so that is a big positive as was coming back after they equalised. Conor and Sam both scoring on their debuts, delighted for them for their hard work and effort.

“We have been trying to grow the number of players and that creates that extra competition for places. It puts a bit of pressure on them to perform but there will be pressure at the World Cup qualifiers so pleased from that point of view

For Hyland’s part, he added: “I don’t think you could have written it any better. First touch, first goal – my first international goal at any age level so very happy!”

As for Empey, he said: “It was a solid start. It feels good to get the win, getting it back at the end. Good fight from the boys to finish off.”

In a whirlwind opening, Hyland scored with his first international touch with under two minutes on the clock from Ireland’s first chance.

After a smart control in the circle, his shot took a deflection off a defender’s foot to deceive goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman.

And it was 2-0 in the eighth minute, Empey coming off the bench and getting on the mark as a Shane O’Donoghue surge into the circle saw the ball pop and bounce to the forward who slotted home with glee.

After the swift start, Malaysia – coached by former Irish assistant coach Arul Anthoni – settled and had the greater control in the second quarter. Three penalty corners were kept out while James Milliken was in control of Abu Kamal Azrai and Azuan Hasan fired shots his way.

Ireland had the best of the early phases of the third quarter but without truly stretching the visitors’ defence.

And, on the counter, Malaysia used their speed to awesome effect. They contrived to cough up a perfect chance when Azuan Hasan’s cross was turned in by a foot rather than a stick from point blank range.

The goal did come with mere seconds to go of the quarter when Azrai raced clear down the left and applied the perfect reverse-stick shot into the bottom corner.

Malaysia were level in contentious fashion when Razie Rahim’s drag-flick hit the backboard, Ireland arguing the ball had never left the attacking circle from the corner injection.

But Ireland finished the stronger, earning their first corners in the last three minutes. From the second one, Lee Cole’s drag was blocked by Othman but no one moved to clear it. Empey spotted the loose ball and duly spanked it in from close range.

The two sides meet again on Wednesday evening at Lisnagarvey (7.30pm).

Tickets on sale via the Hockey Ireland website: https://hockey.ie/tickets-ireland-vs-malaysia/

Ireland: J Milliken, L Madeley, J McKee, K O’Dea, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, P McKibbin, M Robson, B Walker, L Cole, S Hyland
Subs: D Walsh, S Murray, M McNellis, J Duncan, C Harte, C Empey, J Carr

Malaysia: H Othman, N Sumantri, M Jalil, A Hamsani, S Cholan, F Ashari, R Rahim, F Jali, A Hasan, A K Azrai, N Jazlan
Subs: N Hassan, Z P Mizan, F Saari, A Zain, A Rozemi, S Saabah, H Abdul

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Tickets – Ireland vs Malaysia

Tickets – Ireland vs Malaysia

Ireland’s men will play Malaysia on October 5 (6.30pm) and October 6 (6.30pm) at Lisnagarvey in the first capped international match to be played in Ireland since 2019. Tickets are available to purchase at the links below.

Tickets: €12 per match (each ticket entitles adult bearer to bring up to four children free of charge)

Under-12s must be accompanied by an adult; it is not possible to enter a quantity for the Under-12s without an adult ticket selected.



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Irish men to face Malaysia in first capped match in Ireland since 2019

Capped international hockey will make its long-awaited return to Ireland for the first time since 2019 with the senior men facing Malaysia next Tuesday, October 5 and Wednesday, October 6 in two matches at Lisnagarvey’s Comber Road venue.

The fixtures will form a key part of Mark Tumilty’s preparation plans for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Cardiff from October 21 to 24. Malaysia are the current world number 11 ranked side and offer 14th-ranked Ireland a suitably strong opponent in the lead-up to this crucial event.

The fixtures will be ticketed events with entry €12/£10 per game for over-12s while each adult can take up to four Under-12s in free of charge; a maximum of 500 tickets are currently available.

** TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

To this end, coach Tumilty has named a 22-player panel since the EuroHockey Championships II in Poland in August with a number of experienced players returning to the line-up.

“I am delighted to have the fixtures against Malaysia as the final part of our preparation for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier,” said coach Tumilty. “We need to produce two high quality performances to give us confidence before we face Russia on October 21st in that vital World Cup qualifier game”.

Conor Harte’s return could potentially add to his 252 caps for the first time in almost two years having made a strong start to the Belgian season with his new club KHC Dragons.

David Fitzgerald also returns, adding to the goalkeeping options. It is a competitive area of the field with Mark Ingram and Jamie Carr will also be in the mix on that front.

Carr, along with Luke Madeley, he missed out on pitch-time in Poland due a Covid-19 close contact protocols which meant both had to spend their week at the tournament in quarantine. As such, they will be itching to make their mark.

Lee Cole and Matthew Nelson will also be vying for place in the World Cup qualifiers spot along with 14 of the panel that played in Poland last month.

There are also potential formal debuts for Sam Hyland – who was a travelling reserve for the Euros – and Conor Empey who has scored twice in the opening weeks of the Dutch Hoofdklasse since linking up with SCHC.

Not included for this series from the European panel are Ian Stewart, Ben Nelson and James Milliken who remain part of the wider training panel.

Malaysia – known as the Speedy Tigers – are coached by former Ireland assistant coach Arul Antoni, also well-known for his roles with Glenanne, Three Rock Rovers and Dublin University.

They are currently on a four-week tour encompassing challenge matches against four English club sides before playing Ireland and then rounding off the trip with games against Wales and France.

Ireland men’s squad to face Malaysia (October 5 and 6; Lisnagarvey Hockey Club):
Jamie Carr (KHC Leuven, Belgium), David Fitzgerald (Monkstown), Lee Cole (Monkstown), Luke Madeley (KHC Leuven), Mark McNellis (Lisnagarvey), Conor Harte (KHC Dragons, Belgium), Peter McKibbin (Lisnagarvey), Kyle Marshall (Old Georgians, England), Shane O’Donoghue (Glenanne), Sean Murray (KHC Leuven), Michael Robson (Annadale), Kevin O’Dea (UCD), Daragh Walsh (KHC Leuven), Johnny McKee (Banbridge), Ben Walker (Braxgata, Belgium), Jeremey Duncan (Monkstown), Conor Empey (SCHC, Netherlands), Sam Hyland (YMCA), Mark Ingram (Pembroke), Tim Cross (Annadale), Neal Glassey (Crefelder HTC, Germany), Matthew Nelson (Lisnagarvey)

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Junior Green Army accept invitation to FIH World Cup in December

Hockey Ireland is delighted to accept an invitation to the Women’s FIH Junior World Cup which takes places in Potchefstroom, South Africa from December 5th to 16th 2021.

It means the Junior Green Army will feature in the women’s competition for the first time and Irish Under-21 head coach Dave Passmore says it offers a huge opportunity for this current crop of players.

“We are delighted to take up this place at December’s Junior World Cup,” Passmore said. “Taking part in a global competition of this stature is massive for Ireland and will offer an amazing environment for our young athletes to grow and develop.

“Over the past few years, we have seen the importance of nurturing this age group for the senior team with several players already advancing from the Junior Green Army to play in the Olympic Games.”

Ireland initially finished just outside the qualification places at the 2019 EuroHockey Junior Championships in Valencia, ending seventh when six European spots were on offer.

However, the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand opened up two spaces at the competition with Hockey Ireland successfully able to make its case for inclusion in their stead.

“When the opportunity arose for us to take part, we contacted the FIH to make sure we were in line for consideration,” said Hockey Ireland High Performance Director Adam Grainger.

“We see the Junior World Cup as a vital tournament and getting six games in such a setting, against high quality opposition, is exactly what we need as we pursue becoming a fixture among the world’s elite nations.”

While the tournament is under three months away, Ireland do have an extensive training base to work from.

In preparation for the tournament, coach Passmore has named a 25-player panel with the final squad anticipated to be named in late October.

Most of this Under-21 squad are currently working with Sean Dancer’s senior international team on Mondays and Tuesdays who are in preparation mode for their own World Cup qualifiers in October.

During the summer, the Junior Green Army followed an extensive high performance programme, featuring series wins over the Wales senior squad and a GB elite development programme outfit.

They were also highly competitive at a Six Nations tournament in Spain and it gives Passmore confidence they can impress in South Africa in December.

“This summer, the Junior Green Army has worked exceptionally hard in an extensive schedule of fixtures. We feel this puts us in a good position to make an impact at the World Cup and we cannot wait to see what we can do on this stage.”

Group and fixture details will be confirmed in due course.

Ireland Under-21 panel for Junior World Cup; Potchefstroom, South Africa, December 5-16 (Club / College)

Gemma Ferguson (GK, Ulster Elks / UUJ)

Ellie McLoughlin (GK, UCD / UCD)

Holly Micklem (GK, Old Alex / UCD)

Charlotte Beggs (Ulster Elks / UUJ)

Nadia Benallal (Beeston, England / Nottingham Trent)

Caoimhe Byrne (UCD / UCD)

Sophia Cole (UCD / UCD)

Amy Elliott (UCD / UCD)

Christina Hamill (Loreto / TU Dublin)

Anna Horan (Catholic Institute / Mary Immaculate College)

Hannah Kelly (Trinity)

Katie Jane Marshall (UCD / UCD)

Sarah McAuley (UCD / UCD)

Niamh McIvor (Pegasus / Queens)

Lisa Mulcahy (Loreto / UCD)

Siofra Murdoch (Harvard University, USA)

Aisling Murray (Loreto / Trinity College)

Laura Noble (Trinity / Trinity College)

Siofra O’Brien (Loreto / TU Dublin)

Emma Paul (UCD / UCD)

Caoimhe Perdue (Capt, UCC / UCC)

Yasmin Pratt (Loreto / IT Carlow)

Ellen Reid (Loughborough Students / Loughborough University)

Muireann Scanlon (Catholic Institute / UCC)

Caitlin Sherin (Capt, Loreto  / DCU)

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Green Army icon Shirley McCay calls time on record-breaking Irish career

** Shirley McCay pictured above at the World Cup semi-final in 2018. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Shirley McCay has decided to call time on her international career following a ground-breaking 14-year spell with the Green Army.

Since making her international debut in 2007, the Drumquin native has gone on to play for 316 times, a caps record for both hockey and for female sportswomen in general in Ireland.

A diminutive defender with an eye for a glorious long pass, a teak-tough competitor willing to contest every opponent and situation, her passion and perseverance stand her out as one of the iconic faces of the Green Army’s rise.

A rise which has brought them from obscurity to the world’s elite levels, a journey culminating in the 2018 World Cup silver medal and a maiden appearance for the Irish women at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

While she has dabbled with the idea of retiring on a couple of occasions in the past few years, she feels the time is right following the Olympics for her to step back and “go all in” to guide the next generation of stars through her work as an Ulster Hockey performance coach.

Shirley McCay in action during the Olympic qualifiers. Picture: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Her beginnings in the sport came at Omagh Academy, picking up the basics of the game in jig-time, breaking into the senior team at the school when she was just 14. She would be a guiding light in Omagh’s sole Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirls success in 2005.

Omagh Hockey Club soon came calling, “loving life” on the fourth team and enjoying the ride up through the teams before giving some of Ulster’s big guns a run for their money.

There, her development was overseen with Anne Buchanan, Iris Nelson and June Graham crucial figures who became almost ever-present supporters at European Championships – eight in all – among other competitions.

It helped propel her to new heights on the club front, first with Randalstown and then with Ulster Elks – with whom she would win two Irish Senior Cup crowns – KHC Dragons in Belgium, Old Alex and then to Pegasus where she became an EY Champions Trophy winner.

Gene Muller invited her onto the international stage at the age of 18 for a series in Stellenbosch in January 2007. Since then, she has been virtually ever-present, missing just 37 of Ireland’s capped games in 14 and a half years.

Those early days were tough at times with Olympic and World Cup qualification proving well out of reach. Nonetheless, McCay was hooked on the journey and embraced the chance to travel the world, playing the sport she loved and while material success was elusive at the time, there were always moments to last a lifetime.

“In my early career, beating New Zealand in New Zealand [Wellington, 2008] was a special memory. Anytime we could get the better of someone above was a special moment and that was unheard of at the time. Thankfully it became more regular over time but I will never forget that.

“Another eye-opener was playing Argentina in Parana [in 2011] and about 10,000 people must have shown up and gave us an incredible reception. It’s things like that which stay with you, not always the big results but those amazing moments.

Shrley with her nephew at the Olympic qualifiers. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy 

During those early years, she hails the likes of Eimear Cregan, Linda Caulfield, Cathy McKean and Bridget Cleland for bringing her under their wing.

She remembers McKean “just telling me how class I was” at some early sessions, adding to “get something like that from such a good player was special” to hear.

As time went on, though, reaching the top table seemed to draw closer and closer, going within one result of reaching both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

And the breakthrough finally arrived via the World League in 2017, fighting back to beat India to earn a place in the 2018 World Cup.

Prior to that tournament, media reports suggested that would be her last run out in an Irish jersey. Indeed, she very much thought it was going to be the end, a suitable pinnacle after 11 years on the road, before the silver medal run changed everything for everyone involved.

“Getting over the Rio disappointment, it kind of felt like there would never be a bigger stage to go out on a high. Then things turned out the way they did, a way no one expected it to. With the silver medal, it gave us a much better ranking and a chance to qualify for the Olympics. I did not want to leave with any regrets for me or the team having come so far.”

And, of course, that dream was realised in November 2019 with qualification in front of a record crowd at Donnybrook Stadium, a lifetime away from the many years of empty stands and endless unseen effort. Those fixtures took on an extra significance as they marked her 300th cap while she cites walking out and signing the anthem with her nephew Alex as an extra special moment.

Her efforts in the background went on for an extra year due to the Covid-19 pandemic before eventually coming to fruition in July this year.

The side started off in brilliant fashion, breaking their duck with an historic 2-0 win over South Africa. Ultimately, a vital second win proved elusive and their campaign ended in the group stages.

“We were disappointed in regards to reaching our main target of reaching the quarter-finals. We had the capability of doing it but each team had those same dreams and that it why this is the toughest tournament.

“Even South Africa, with their limited preparation, showed some excellent hockey and there absolutely no easy games. Sure, the outcome was disappointing but the whole Olympic experience was filled with massive bucket-list moments.”

While the tournament was her curtain-call from the international playing scene, she knows she will not be too far from a pitchside anytime soon.

Indeed, she dove straight back into camps in her role as an Ulster Hockey Talent Coach and, last weekend, she was part of the coaching staff that saw Ulster win double-gold at the UK Schools Games. And she is thrilled at the prospect of inspiring the next generation on that front.

“Ulster Hockey have been so sympathetic to me and my international career, letting me do bits and pieces in between when I was away. I have been so used to trying to balance playing internationally and the role.

“So I am really looking forward to going all-in, committing to the job and making a difference, helping Ulster’s young talent develop and play to their potential.”

That role leaves her now in a peaceful position to step away from the international stage, paying tribute to her network who helped propel her to such spectacular heights.

“I am indebted to a few people who without their support I wouldn’t be where I am today. My friends, family and loved ones, thanks for putting up with me being grumpy and rarely being around.

“To the coaches I have had throughout my career, I have learnt so much from you all. To our sponsors, SoftCo and Park Developments in particular, thank you for helping prolong an old girl’s career and joining our journey.

“And finally, to every team mate I have ever had the pleasure of playing with, thanks for putting up with me. It has been an honour.”