Belfast Telegraph

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New world format puts pressure on Irish girls

 

By John Flack

The Ireland's women's hockey team will have to punch above their weight if they are to avoid an early flight home from the World Cup in London next year after confirmation that a new format to reflect the expanded showpiece is to be introduced.

With the tournament being increased to 16 nations instead of the usual 12, the teams will be divided into four groups of four.

However, for the first time in the competition's history there will be no classification matches and only the four group winners are guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, something that doesn't please skipper Katie Mullan or her players.

The four teams that finish second will face a play-off against the four third-placed sides from the other groups with the winners of those games progressing to the last eight.

However, the nations that finish bottom of their respective pools will face an early exit in a departure from the norm.

In Ireland's last World Cup appearance in 2002, they played a total of seven matches, five in their pool and two subsequent classification games.

Ireland will go into the tournament as the lowest ranked team and, in order to advance, they will need to avoid bottom place in their pool or else they will be going home after only three matches in the first phase.

Graham Shaw's team continue their preparations for the trip to London on Sunday when they face Scotland at Stormont in the first of three internationals.

The teams play again in Banbridge on Tuesday night before rounding off the series at Stormont on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, former Ireland captain Alex Speers will be acting as assistant coach, along with another ex-international Carolyn Burns, to the Ulster Under-16 squad that will be taking part in the interprovincial tournament at Stormont over the weekend.

The Pegasus captain said she is enjoying the role having also assisted her club coach Ali McNeill with the Ireland U-16s over the past two years in Six Nations tournaments on the continent.

"The preparation for the weekend has gone very well, starting back in June with matches against Scotland, and the girls have progressed week on week with an intensive training programme in place since the start of August," said Speers.

"The aim of every Ulster team is to win the interpros, and to play at home is very special for these girls, especially as only one of them, Niamh McIvor, has experience from last year.

"It is a great group of talented girls, all of whom have brilliant attitudes to learning."

Ulster U-18 coach Robbie McMinn is hoping his team can improve on last year's third place.

"We've had a good build-up with a draw against Lurgan and a win over Queen's plus bronze at the UK Games," he said.

"However, Leinster must be favourites as they have more players who have played for Ireland at this level."

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