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Bethany's joy after answering Ireland's call

 

Recognition: Bethany Barr
Recognition: Bethany Barr

By John Flack

Bethany Barr says she feels humbled to have been named in the Ireland women's hockey squad for her first major tournament.

The former Lurgan player, now with UCD, came in from under the radar to join six other Ulster players in interim head coach Gareth Grundie's panel for the FIH Hockey series event which begins in Banbridge on Saturday.

The tournament is the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process, with the top two finishers progressing to the final eliminator in November.

Grundie has clearly been impressed with Barr's performances in defence in the build up to the Havelock Park showpiece, as she has displaced vastly experienced World Cup silver medallist Yvonne O'Byrne in the squad. The 23-year-old was only called up to the extended Irish training panel last January when she won the first of her eight caps against Chile in Santiago.

Speaking publicly for the first time since her selection, Barr said: "When I was named in the squad, I was very excited for the opportunity and thankful be one of the ones chosen to represent the wider group of girls who have put in a lot of work over the past few months.

"There is a huge amount of talent in the squad and a lot of competition.

"Going into 2019, I did not know what to expect so I am just extremely thankful and look forward to the opportunity to participate in my first major tournament. It is an amazing opportunity for Ireland to be hosting the tournament so that is an added element that is very special.

"To be playing in front of a home crowd is something that will hopefully help us to perform to the best of our ability and playing in Banbridge, only 15 minutes from my own house will be amazing."

Although naturally delighted at her call-up, Barr keeps sport in perspective and she is heavily involved with Charlene's Project, a charity named after her late sister, who died after a long illness in 2010 at the age of just 20.

Charlene travelled to Uganda shortly before her death and helped raise funds to build a school for underpriviliged children.

Now, Bethany, along with other family members, has been keeping up the good work on and off the hockey pitch in Africa when time permits.

She added: "I have done hockey coaching in Uganda on multiple occasions when working with Charlene's Project and Youth Sport Uganda."

"There I have seen the girls' national team training on the only astroturf pitch they have in the whole of the country.

"I've seen how they have struggled to get visas to participate in tournaments outside Uganda, so this reminds me as I play hockey here to never take anything for granted. It also reminds me as we set our eyes and focus on Tokyo that, as a squad, we have a lot to be thankful for in having the opportunity to play the sport we love."

Ireland will start hot favourites to reach the FIH series final and take another step down the road to Tokyo as they prepare to face lower-ranked Malaysia, Czech Rebublic and Singapore in the first phase of the tournament.

All of Ireland's games will be streamed live on the BBC Sport NI website with commentary from Nigel Ringland and former Great Britain goalkeeper Simon Mason.

Meanwhile, Ireland's Under-21s lost 2-1 to India at the Four Nations tournament in Dublin on Saturday. Laura Foley got their consolation goal.

Today: Ireland v Canada (3.30pm).

Belfast Telegraph

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