Ireland's Gillian Pinder says that their Olympic qualifier against Canada is "just a stepping stone" on the way to hopefully winning a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

The Green Army will host the Canadians over two legs on Saturday and Sunday in Donnybrook, where Sean Dancer's side will be hoping to secure Olympic qualification for the very first time.

Ireland come into this crunch tie on the back of an incredible 2018 in which they reached a World Cup final in London, and returned home as silver medal heroes.

Pinder happily reflects on those days as "a bit crazy" but the World Cup euphoria is firmly in the rear-view mirror as the Olympics take centre stage now.

"I think the programme is designed around the Olympic cycle," Pinder tells RTÉ Sport.

"The World Cup falls in the middle gap [between each Olympics]. It’s always been 'eyes on the prize’ for the Olympic Games. It was great to have such a successful World Cup in the middle of that. 

"To be properly happy with how the four-year cycle has gone you need to go to the Olympic Games." 

Pinder was involved when Ireland fell short of clinching a spot at the Rio Olympics, and she notes that some players in the current squad also carry the scars of missing out on the London 2012 Games.

The players have drawn plenty of lessons from those failed attempts, and their ambitions for Tokyo 2020 go far beyond just earning the right to compete at the Olympics.

"It's always been a goal to get to the Olympics, but it’s actually a goal to medal at the Olympics so this is just a stepping stone on the way to achieving the ultimate dream," says a defiant Pinder.

Pinder in action for Ireland

"We know it’s a huge game and a huge opportunity, and it’s one that we want to grasp with both hands because the ultimate goal will come next summer. 

"This is just one of the hurdles we need to hop on the way." 

While the last 12 months have brought huge progress for Ireland, they've faced challenging times as well. After their World Cup heroics, manager Graham Shaw stepped down from his position with Australian native Dancer coming in to take charge.

They've come through that transition period and Pinder reports that the players have enjoyed adjusting to a new manager's way of playing the game.

Preparations are almost complete as the two-legged battle in Energia Park looms closer.

"It's so exciting," says Pinder. 

"The vibe in Ireland after the World Cup was great and people were talking about women’s hockey. To be able to host an event like this in Donnybrook is brilliant. 

"We were down in Donnybrook a few weeks ago having a walk around, and sussing it out. I’ve been to watch a couple of matches there myself for the last while. It’s very different being in the stand to being down on the pitch looking up. 

"Seeing pictures of the pitch being laid the last few days, we just can't wait to get on it and see a sea of green in the stand. The crowd supporting us can be the little extra motivator that can get you back in the game." 

Watch Ireland v Canada live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player on Saturday and Sunday from 6.30pm