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Trip to United States is set to raise bar for Ireland hockey stars

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team will be continuing their preparations for the next stage of the Olympic qualifying process with a trip to the United States next month.

They will take on the American national side in three internationals on May 18, 19 and 21 at their headquarters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The games will provide a dry run for Ireland's clash with the United States in Valencia at the World League 3 tournament in June.

The Americans have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and now have a best-ever world ranking of fifth while Ireland are 14th on the list.

Ireland captain Megan Frazer is more familiar than most with the set-up across the Atlantic, having spent three years on a hockey scholarship at the University of Maryland.

The Ulster Elks midfielder will be looking for some improved performances after the disappointment of her team's failure to win more than one game in the three-test series at home to Italy last weekend.

At around the same time as Ireland were playing Italy in a 3-3 draw on Sunday, the USA were en route to beating third-ranked Argentina 3-0 at a tournament in New Zealand.

"The USA will obviously represent a big step up in class for us but we generally tend to lift ourselves for games against higher-ranked opposition so hopefully we can do that again," she says.

"They have been doing really well recently, they are full-time athletes which has helped their progress and they could easily have beaten Australia in the last World Cup semi-final only to go out on penalties.

"The facilities in Lancaster were in the process of being built when I was at college in the States and, by all accounts, they are terrific.

"The main stadium has a retractable roof and the ancillary facilities are state-of-the-art as well so it will be an ideal setting for us."

Ireland played USA twice at last year's Champions Challenge in Glasgow, losing 3-0 in the group stages and 3-1 in the final.

Frazer is unconcerned that the three internationals next month will be a dress rehearsal for the clash in Valencia.

"From what I understand the matches were arranged some time ago and certainly before we knew who we'd be playing in our group in Spain," she adds.

"I don't think it really matters and in some respects it's no bad thing as we will have a better idea of what we'll be up against when we meet them again.

"Obviously we'll not show our hand too much at set-pieces but actually playing them, rather than watching videos of them, will give us a better insight into what to expect."

Certainly an important step on the road to Rio.

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