Ireland’s men’s hockey team begins their most important tournament since last March’s Olympic qualifier as they bid to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
They play India at 2.30pm (Irish time) on day one of World League round three in Rotterdam, the key event in determining who qualifies for the 2014 World Cup.
The primary target for Andrew Meredith’s team is a top four finish which will guarantee qualification but there is also the likelihood that a sixth place finish could also suffice from a tournament that employs the same much-maligned structure from the Champions Challenge.
It will be tough going for Ireland who are the seventh rank of the eight entrants with five sides from the world’s top ten involved. They are initially pitted in a group with India, Olympic silver medallists the Netherlands and New Zealand though this phase of the competition is used solely to confirm quarter-final opposition.
That makes the fourth game of the competition the crucial tie, making it a direct battle for a World Cup berth next Wednesday.
As such, the preliminary phase is important for Ireland to perform well in order to potentially gain an easier opposition when the quarters come around.
Meredith’s squad has endured a number of changes since first being named and is very different from the side that came so close to qualifying for the Olympics a year ago.
Teenager Peter Brown pulled out last Monday through illness, adding to the injury issues that ruled out Bruce McCandless and record caps holder Eugene Magee while experienced internationals John Jermyn, Geoff McCabe and Mitch Darling are also unavailable.
As such, it means tournament debuts at world level for Kyle Good, Jonathan Bell and Jonny Bruton, the Cork man being called into the squad on Monday in place of Brown
But the return of Andy McConnell, Peter Caruth and Timmy Cockram counteract the losses with plenty of energy and guile in midfield and attack. They enter the tournament in high spirits, too, having defeated Olympic champions Germany 3-2 in their warm-up games with Shane O’Donoghue netting the crucial goal.
* To read The Hook’s interview with Phelie Maguire ahead of the tournament, click here
* To read Irish Hockey’s interview with Shane O’Donoghue before the tournament, click here
* To view the FIH’s tournament website for World League Round Three, click here
** Live streaming will be available throughout the tournament from http://www.youtube.com/fihockey
The opposition (world rank):
Australia (2) – tournament favourites by virtue of two strong wins over the Netherlands in the warm-up games, the side are captained by Bray-born Fergus Kavanagh and feature plenty of household names. Jamie Dwyer is set to pass his 300th cap during the tournament while nine of the panel have over 100 caps in their locker. A young gun to look out for is Jake Whetton who is capable of the incredible.
Netherlands (3) – the hosts have a number of injury concerns that have disrupted their preparations with captain Rob van der Horst out along with their best drag-flicker Mink van der Weerden as well as Bob de Voogd and Floris van der Linden. Tim Jenniskens and Wouter Joie are other notable players not to make the cut in a young panel named by Paul van Ass. But there is still the class of Robbert Kemperman, Billy Bakker and Jeroen Hertzberger to keep tabs on up front.
New Zealand (6) – a ninth place finish at the Olympics was below par for a blacksticks side that has increased significantly in confidence in previous years. From the Games panel, Ryan Archibald has moved on while Simon Child is not included while they will have a new face in the pads as Kyle Pontifex is no longer there with Devon Manchester and Hamish McGregor potentially stepping in. But they have lots of know-how with Phil Burrows in line to win his 300th cap and has plenty of local information having spent plenty of years playing for Rotterdam as does Shea McAleese. Blair Tarrant is a late addition following an injury to Kane Russell.
Spain (7) – probably the most unknown force in the competition after the financial woes of their federation saw them withdraw from the 2012 Champions Trophy and they have played little international hockey since the Olympics. They bring five debutants and the likes of Roc Oliva, Pol Amat, Santi Freixa and Alex Fabregas do not feature on their tournament roster. But they have serious resilience as displayed in a turbulent Olympic campaign in which Edi Tubau dragged the team forward. Ramon and David Alegre along with Quico Cortes and Sergi Enrique will make them very difficult to break down.
Belgium (9) – have been very impressive in the build-up to the competition, beating England 5-2, 4-1 and 5-0 before drawing 2-2 with Australia last weekend. Key goalscorer Tom Boon is likely to play with two false teeth after taking a rogue Ashley Jackson stick to the face during their series against England. Their stated goal is a medal in 2016 in Rio and they certainly look to be progressing quickly in the right direction.
India (11) – they arrive with a number of changes to the panel that played in WL2 in Delhi. Significantly, Sandeep Singh is back to add his devilish long passes and drag-flick. On the flip side, this does leave them with quite an immobile back four with twin towers Rupinder Pal Singh and VR Raghunath also offering corner options. Danish Mujtaba is out, too, through injury but there is plenty of trickery in the likes of Sandeep Singh and Dharamvir Singh who scored the classy winner in the 3-2 result last time they played Ireland.
France (17) – the last side to qualify for this competition by virtue of their second place finish in Paris. They had to wait for confirmation, though, as Japan’s success in Russia eventually finalised their place in Rotterdam and they have built up to the competition with a couple of wins over Poland. They have been rejuvenated under the coaching of Fredi Soyez while the return of talisman Matthieu Durchon has boosted their attacking intent.
Irish men’s hockey squad, World League 3 Semi-Finals, Rotterdam, June 13-23: J Bell (Lisnagarvey), J Bruton (YMCA), P Caruth (Braxgata, Belgium), T Cockram (Lisnagarvey), D Fitzgerald (Monkstown), P Gleghorne (Instonians), K Good (Monkstown), R Gormley (Krefeld, Germany), C Harte (SCHC, Netherlands), D Harte (Kampong, Netherlands), J Jackson (Braxgata), S Loughrey (Bath Buccaneers, England), C Cargo (Reading, England), P Maguire (Hurley, NL), A McConnell (Hurley), S O’Donoghue (UCD), A Sothern (Pembroke Wanderers), M Watt (SCHC)
Group A: Ireland, Netherlands, India, New Zealand
Group B: Australia, Spain, Belgium, France
Fixtures, World League 3 Group A (all in Rotterdam, Irish times)
Thursday: Ireland vs India, 2.30pm; New Zealand vs Netherlands, 7pm
Saturday: Ireland vs New Zealand, 8.30am; Netherlands vs India, 3.30pm
Monday: Ireland vs Netherlands, 7pm; India vs New Zealand, 4pm
Wednesday, June 19 – classification matches, quarter-finals
Friday, June 21 through to Sunday, June 23 – classification matches
World Cup 2014 qualification criteria
1) Host nation – Netherlands (1)
2) Continential winners (5)
– Africa Cup of Nations (Sept 26 – Oct 5; Nairobi, Kenya)
– Pan-American Cup (August 11-17; Toronto, Canada)
– Asia Cup (August 24-Sept 1; Ipoh, Malaysia)
– Oceania Cup (Oct 28 – Nov 3; Stratford, New Zealand)
– European Nations Championships (August 17-25; Boom, Belgium)
3) FIH World League Games (six or seven teams)
– the six highest placed teams in WL3 tournaments not qualified under 1) or 2)
– if Netherlands win the European championships, the seven highest placed teams in WL3 tournaments not qualified under 1) or 2)
– where the last place available is shared between teams that finish in the same position at different WL3 tournaments, the side ranked higher in the world at the time of completion of the tournament will take the place.
** The FIH will formally confirm who has qualified on November 8.