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Mossley man John Jackson will lead Ireland at the European Championships next weekend following the release of the 18-player men’s senior squad to play in Boom, Belgium.
He formally takes over the mantle from long-time skipper Ronan Gormley who remains in the panel, returning to the set-up having missed the three pre-tournament warm-up games in Hamburg last month.
Gormley took over the captaincy from Paddy Brown back in June 2008 but Jackson donned the armband a couple of times in his absence at the Celtic Cup in 2009 and has long been part of a leadership group of five players. He captained the side for the 2012 Celtic Cup, too, lifting the trophy in Lisnagarvey.
His installation is one of a number of changes to Andrew Meredith’s panel with Stephen Cole and Kirk Shimmins the bright new faces in six switches from the World League round three, the last elite level competition Ireland played in.
Shimmins only finished his Leaving Certificate in June and made his senior international debut in Hamburg against Germany while Cole had just a handful of caps to his name.
Elsewhere, the changes were more expected. Eugene Magee, the side’s standout midfielder, has recovered a knee injury to bring a wealth of experience while fellow centurion Mitch Darling is available again, too.
Bruce McCandless and Peter Brown both have recovered from injury and illness. On the debit side, a lot of know-how is left out with the vastly experienced quartet of Timmy Cockram, Phelie Maguire, Paul Gleghorne and Andy McConnell left out along with Alan Sothern and Jonny Bruton.
There is still no place for Geoff McCabe – one of Ireland’s stars in the 2011 Euros – who has recently signed up with Surbiton in London, as has Mikey Watt while John Jermyn is also not included.
Ireland have been drawn against the Netherlands (world number three), Poland (20) and England (4) while Pool A is comprised of Germany (1), Spain (6), Belgium (9) and the Czech Republic (21).
Speaking about the tournament, coach Meredith has pitched Belgium as the ones to watch: “I would expect that Belgium coming off their World League 3 win, and as hosts in front of 8000 of their own spectators, to be considered the marginal favourite, but recent strong performances from Germany and a now full strength Holland will make it a pretty interesting tournament.”
Looking at his own charges, Meredith added that game three against England is particularly exciting: “Our focus is of course on the group stage. We begin with the highest ranked opponent in our pool in Holland and have a must win game against Poland.
“We have drawn England as our final group game, which you can imagine with the competitive group of athletes we have, are immensely excited about the real opportunity and challenge this game presents, particularly given some of the great potential we showed with an inexperienced new group in Hamburg, against a very similar English side.”
Ireland senior men’s panel for European championships, August 18-25 (Boom, Belgium): Jonny Bell (Lisnagarvey, 23 caps), Peter Brown (Banbridge, 11), Chris Cargo (Reading, 77), Peter Caruth (Braxgata, 73), Stephen Cole (Monkstown, 4), Mitch Darling (Three Rock Rovers, 101), David Fitzgerald (GK, Monkstown, 18), Kyle Good (Monkstown, 15), Ronan Gormley (Krefeld, 172), Conor Harte (SCHC, 118), David Harte (GK, Kampong, 117), John Jackson (captain, Braxgata 127), Stuart Loughrey (Team Bath Buccaneers, 40), Eugene Magee (Krefeld, 168), Bruce McCandless (Banbridge, 50), Shane O’Donoghue (UCD, 34), Kirk Shimmins (Pembroke Wanderers, 3), Michael Watt (SCHC, 132)
European Championships, group fixtures (all Irish time)
Sunday, August 18: Ireland vs Netherlands, 5pm
Monday, August 19: Ireland vs Poland, 3pm
Wednesday, August 21: Ireland vs England, 10.30am