Ireland and USA are famliar foes at the Champions Challenge 1
Ireland and USA are famliar foes at the Champions Challenge 1
(Photo: Adrian Boehm)
Dublin will play host to the Champions Challenge I for the second successive year after a spectacular event in 2011 ended with Japan just edging out USA, coming from behind to claim a thrilling 3-2 victory.

Five of the cast list are back once again, both in search of world ranking points and trying to uncover new talents in the wake of the Olympic cycle.

Indeed, four of the nations come into the competition just six weeks after their involvement in London with Australia the marquee name in the field.

Eleven of their Hockeyroos from the Games are back in situ after an impressive showing in August. They finished fifth but were aggrieved not to go further, losing one match (1-0 to New Zealand on day one) and conceding just two goals in six games as they appear to be quickly re-emerging after a couple of slump years saw them drop to this level.

In the initial group, they have been paired against a rapidly improving Belgium who ended their first Olympics in 11th place, India and Wales.

The latter were named as the eighth tournament entrant in the wake of Spain’s decision not to send a team to Dublin. The world number 27 side will be the tournament low-ranks but will appreciate a rare chance to test themselves against sides of this calibre.

For India, the experienced midfielder Ritu Rani will lead the 12th ranked side while defender Kirandeep Kaur will be vice-captain in the team’s maiden assignment under Chief Coach Neil Hawgood.

Otherwise, the squad draws heavily on youth with no less than seven of the selected players being part of the India team that claimed the silver medal at the recent Junior Women’s Asia Cup.

Australia have 11 of their Olympic panel available again and look to be the team to beat. Among the newcomers, Adam Commens elevates development squad players Jordyn Holzberger and Karri McMahon.

It is a recurring theme for many of the sides in the competition. In Group B, for the host nation, interim coach Denis Pritchard has included the uncapped Brenda Flannery as well as five other players from UCD’s student club with Katie Mullan and Nicola Gray also stepping up from the U-21s.

Ireland are the third lowest ranked side in the competition, ahead of Wales, and face a tough opening series as they meet Olympic sides South Africa and the USA as well as bogey side Scotland.

South Africa line-up without six familiar faces who boast a combined caps total of 1,000 test matches notched on their hockey sticks. World record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee – who set the record in Dublin a year ago – along with fellow triple Olympians Kate Woods and Jen Wilson, double Olympians Mariette Rix and Kathleen Taylor plus Dirkie Chamberlain will not be in Dublin as they send a youthful side to the competition.

Four newcomers will make their USA debut as the timing of the competition in the middle of the collegiate season necessitate an overhaul of their panel from the Olympics.

Stephanie Fee and Alesha Widdall earned their places after standout performances at the 2012 Women’s national championship while Meghan Beamesderfer and Rayell Heistand are part of the development squad.

Head Coach Lee Bodimeade has selected 8 of the 16 players that competed at the London Olympics to the Champions Challenge 1 Team.

“Unfortunately the timing of this tournament is inconvenient as it falls in the middle of the collegiate season,” said Bodimeade.

“We will be missing some key, quality players, but we have a strong talent pool with players like Megan, Stephanie, Alesha and Rayell who will have the opportunity to step up and gain experience at the international level.”

Scotland, meanwhile, will hope they can once again go against the world ranking grain following their 2011 bronze medal in the competition.

Those initial group battles will see the side battle it out for a good pool placing and a potentially easier quarter-final date as the competition keeps the same format of the previous edition.

It means no side is eliminated after the first series of three games prior to the all-important knock-out games, a method that will now be used at Champions Trophy level.

It ensures three days of dramatic action, culminating with semi-finals and finals on the second weekend of the competition with everything to play for.

Stephen Findlater