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Irish to take on Olympic rivals in Durban's heat ahead of Tokyo mission

 

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Fit again: Zoe Wilson has recovered from a knee injury

Fit again: Zoe Wilson has recovered from a knee injury

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Fit again: Zoe Wilson has recovered from a knee injury

Ireland's women have switched their Olympic warm-weather training camp, which was originally scheduled for Malaysia, to Durban in South Africa.

The trip to Kuala Lumpur was cancelled due to ongoing concerns over the coronavirus in Asia and the Irish squad will now travel to Durban in mid-March for a two-week visit.

While not as humid as Malaysia, conditions in that part of South Africa will come close to replicating those that will be experienced in Tokyo.

Ireland's Olympic rivals Japan and China have also relocated their training base to Durban and Sean Dancer's team will play both nations during the trip.

There is also a possibility that Great Britain will be there next month, allowing Ireland the opportunity to play at least one more game in the build-up.

It's understood that national head coach Dancer will bring 20 players to Durban, having operated with the same number when the squad travelled to Stellenbosch for a similar venture last month.

The squad size makes sense because just 16 will make the final cut for Tokyo due to Olympic regulations for hockey, instead of the usual 18 which is the norm for other major tournaments.

With the heat and humidity significant factors in Japan, Dancer is anxious to up the intensity in the forthcoming training camps with further trips to Belgium and Spain having been pencilled in over the coming months.

Competition for places is likely to be fierce with two to drop out from the 18 that helped Ireland qualify for a first ever Olympics, if Dancer keeps faith with that squad as far as possible.

Five Ulster players were in the Ireland squad that travelled to Stellenbosch last month with Zoe Wilson, Bethany Barr and Megan Frazer all missing out due to injury.

However, while Randalstown player-coach Wilson has recovered from a knee injury and is fit to travel to Durban, doubts still remain over the fitness of Barr (back) and Frazer (knee), neither of whom have played for several months.

Meanwhile, Pegasus and Belfast Harlequins both have availability issues ahead of tomorrow's EY Irish Hockey games in Munster.

Leaders Pegasus will be without Niamh McIvor and Charlotte Beggs, who are on Ireland Under-18 duty in England, for the trip to Limerick to face Catholic Institute.

Former Ireland player Jenny McAuley is unavailable for Quins' visit to Cork Harlequins due to family commitments.

Belfast Telegraph