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Good timing for Ireland as they avoid the hottest match slots at Olympics

Humidity fear: Shirley McCay is happy to play in the morning and evening games in Tokyo
Humidity fear: Shirley McCay is happy to play in the morning and evening games in Tokyo

By John Flack

Ireland's matches at the Tokyo Olympics won't be played at the hottest times of the day in Tokyo, much to the relief of the players who will be leaving no stone unturned in the build-up in any event.

The squad will shortly be undertaking sessions in the heat chamber at the Northern Ireland Sports Institute at Ulster University in Jordanstown in an attempt to replicate the conditions they will experience in Japan as best they can.

Ireland will be up against world champions the Netherlands, Great Britain, who won the gold medals at the Rio Games in 2016, Germany, India and South Africa in the group stages.

They need to finish in the top-four in their pool and match their ranking of eighth in the world to book their tickets to the quarter-finals with India (ninth) and South Africa (16th) lower down the global-list.

All the games will be played in two slots - either from 9.30am to 1.45pm or 6.30pm to 10.45pm local time, thus avoiding the worst of the heat and humidity.

Shirley McCay, one of eight Ulster players in the current panel, has welcomed the move, having experienced similar conditions at a tournament in Malaysia two years ago.

The Irish squad will be returning to Kuala Lumpur for a training camp in early March after a trip to South Africa in January

McCay said: "It's good preparation to get to hot countries for sure and, from past experience, I think the hardest thing to deal with in humidity is the decision-making when you are under fatigue and struggling with the temperatures."

"But it's certainly good that the games in Tokyo are outside of the time of day when the heat and humidity is at its most severe."

Ireland have avoided two of the world's best teams in their group in Australia and Argentina with only the Netherlands game in their pool looking like a mission impossible.

Great Britain aren't the force they were in Rio and Ireland ran England, who provide the bulk of their squad, close at the recent European Championship, going down 2-1 before drawing with Germany.

McCay's team defeated India twice during the World Cup last year and have a decent record against South Africa, which will be put to the test in January's warm-weather training camp.

McCay added: "It's still a very tough schedule though as we will have five games in the space of jeight days in the group, but I think we are in the better side of the draw."

"There are definitely a couple of teams we will look to target although there will be no easy games and it will be really tough.

"It will still be very hot and pretty humid so it is hugely important we knuckle down and make the most of the facilities at UU to aid our acclimatisation process."

Next up for McCay, who helped launch a new partnership between Ulster Hockey and local charity NI Children's Hospice this week, will be Saturday's EY Irish Hockey League game between Pegasus and UCD in Dublin.

Last weekend, Pegasus lost their unbeaten record when they went down 3-2 to Loreto as the Dublin side avenged a 2-1 loss to the double all-Ireland champions in last season's play-off final.

McCay added: "UCD will be really tough as we know from past experience and we will be looking to make better use of our chances this week.

"Against Loreto we didn't take our opportunities but they defended very well and took theirs when they came, but we have been lucky against them in the past so they will probably see it as fair enough."

Belfast Harlequins will welcome back McCay's Ireland team-mate Lizzie Colvin from her honeymoon for the trip to early pace-setters Pembroke as they bid for their first win of the campaign.

However, another of Quins' international contingent, Bethany Barr, is doubtful with a back injury after missing Saturday's 3-1 home loss to UCD.

FIXTURES: Saturday: EYHL: Railway Union v Catholic Institute; Old Alex v Loreto; Pembroke v Belfast Harlequins (2.30pm); UCD v Pegasus (2.50pm); Muckross v Cork Harlequins.

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