Connery flies South as Ireland eye Olympics

THE fight to qualify for London’s Olympic Games has seen one Kilkenny woman half-way around the world.

THE fight to qualify for London’s Olympic Games has seen one Kilkenny woman half-way around the world.

Jenkinstown native Aine Connery is currently in Johannesburg, South Africa with the Irish women’s hockey squad as they step up their qualification preparations for this Summer’s Olympics.

Connery is with the Irish squad on warm weather training. Capped 41 times for Ireland, Connery and her colleagues will play the host country and Belgium in a series of matches.

Ireland made a great start to their time in Africa, beating the hosts 2-1 in their opening game, before going down 1-0 to Belgium on Friday.

Ireland began the Tri Nation tournament with a narrow loss to South Africa. The only goal of the game came after six minutes, when Pietie Coetzee scored through a penalty corner. Connery had Ireland’s best chance in the dying minutes of the half, but the diving Kilkennywoman just failed to connect with a great cross from Emma Clarke.

Ireland played Belgium on Monday evening, but despite creating numerous chances they were beaten by a 17th minute goal from Sofie Gierts.

The second part of the tournament saw Ireland play South Africa last night (Tuesday). Their final match will be against Belgium tomorrow (Thursday), before flying home 24 hours later.

Ireland will then have another training camp, this time in Belgium, at the end of February. After that attention switches to the Olympic qualifying tournament which gets underway in Belgium on St Patrick’s Day.

Ireland play France, Russia, Spain, Belgium and Mexico in the six-team tournament, a competition where only the winning nation will qualify directly for London.

Ranked at 14 in the World, Ireland will be the second highest ranked team for the qualification tournament behind the Spaniards. With the continuous improvements the Irish girls have made over the past year, coupled with solid performances against world class opposition, they can feel confident of making the breakthrough to fulfil their London dream.

Key squad member

Connery has become a key member of the Irish set-up since scoring her first goal for her country in last Summer’s Celtic Cup competition. Ireland beat Azerbaijan and India in the Champions challenge tournament in Dublin for teams ranked ninth to 16th in the world.

Ireland then competed in the European Championships Germany last August. They lost out to the host nation, England and Belgium, before redeeming themselves with a 3-1 victory over Azerbaijan and consolidating a top six championship finish with a 4-1 victory over Italy, a match where Connery was among the goalscorers.

The tournament in Africa comes in the middle of a busy spell for Connery and her international colleagues. Ireland travelled to Argentina before Christmas to play in two four-nation tournaments against the host nation, South Africa and India.

They acquitted themselves well in Beunos Aires and Parana. Connery scored twice in Argentina during the 2-2 draw against the South Africans, before grabbing a consolation goal in Ireland’s final game of the tournament, a 1-4 defeat to India.

Aine is part of a family steeped in hockey tradition.

Her older sister Fiona gave sterling service for Ireland, while siblings Sinead and Eimear are accomplished hockey players who have played for the national side at under-age level.

Aine, a former UCC student is currently playing her club hockey alongside sister Sinead with Dublin club Hermes in the Leinster league.

The sisters are well established camogie players also.

They have won three senior club All-Ireland titles with St Lachtain’s (Freshford), as well as a host of county and Leinster titles also.