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Rising star Zoe is all geared up to make Irish bow


On the way up: Ulster girl Zoe Wilson is aiming to make an impression at the Irish women’s training camp in Spain

On the way up: Ulster girl Zoe Wilson is aiming to make an impression at the Irish women’s training camp in Spain

©INPHO/Presseye/Rowland White

On the way up: Ulster girl Zoe Wilson is aiming to make an impression at the Irish women’s training camp in Spain

The Ireland women's hockey squad have returned to the scene of the crime as they prepare to face Spain in four internationals as part of an 11-day warm-weather training camp in Valencia.

It was there that their dream of playing in the Rio Olympics was cruelly shattered last June when they were beaten by China in a penalty shoot-out at the World League 2 tournament when a win would have booked a trip to Brazil.

There is little doubt that the players who were involved in that defeat will privately recall the heartbreaking circumstances that surrounded it when they step onto the same pitch up to three times a day for intensive training sessions along with the four matches.

To compound the lingering disappointment, Spain will be using the series, which gets under way on Friday evening, as part of the build-up for Rio after becoming the last of the 12 teams to qualify after South Africa declined the invitation to take part.

However, while players like Ireland captain Megan Frazer, her Ulster Elks club mate Shirley McCay, Katie Mullan and Ayeisha McFerran will cast their minds back to that fateful day seven months ago, the newcomers won't feel the residual pain.

Among them is Randalstown midfielder Zoe Wilson, one of eight Ulster players included, who will win her first senior international cap over the course of the four matches.

The 18-year-old is having the time of her life at Syracuse University where she is undertaking a hockey scholarship and when she was home for the festive break she inspired Town to their first Denman Ulster Shield triumph for nine years.

Widely regarded as one of the most promising young talents in Ireland, Zoe captained the national U18 side to the gold medals at the European Championships in Italy over the summer.

She then played a key role in helping Syracuse win the US National title for the first time, scoring one of the goals in the final in Michigan.

Now she is looking forward to making her senior international debut against Spain over the coming days as she bids to impress head coach Graham Shaw over the course of the trip.

"To go away with the seniors is very exciting for me and I was delighted when I received the email from Graham to say I'd been selected," said Zoe.

"Obviously it is every athlete's dream to represent their country at the highest level possible and having the opportunity to play at this high standard will be a challenge but it's one I am looking forward to."

The intensive training she will face over the next 10 days is nothing new to Zoe as she undergoes a similar regime in America.

"The level of commitment out there is something that I have not experienced before and everything is catered for," she added. "At our sports centre we have a Grab & Go bar, a team physio, masseuse and equipment managers who ensure that all our training and playing kit is laundered and prepared."

Meanwhile, Zoe's friends at Randalstown will be hoping to bounce back from a surprise defeat to Dungannon at the weekend when they take on Portadown in the Ulster Premier League on Saturday.

Dungannon will be aiming to build on that 3-2 win when they play host to Lisnagarvey while Queen's need to beat North Down to stay in the hunt for a top-three finish.

Last weekend, the students lost 2-0 to leaders Belfast Harlequins, who entertain Ballymoney at Deramore on Friday night, while second-placed Lurgan will be fancied to beat struggling Armagh to keep the pressure on.

Belfast Telegraph