The qualifying road to the 2016 Rio Olympics was laid out this week with Ireland’s men set to travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in February 2015 for round two of the World League.
The women, meanwhile, will head to Montevideo in Uruguay for their second stage of the competition. The League is the International Hockey Federation’s method of finding its 12 qualifiers for the Games over the course of four rounds of competition.
By virtue of Ireland’s elevation into the top 16 in the world in the past year, the good news for both is they get to skip the first round of the competition.
And the men will be particularly confident of making it through the second phase after a relatively friendly draw.
Three sides will progress to round three. Ireland are top seeds with Canada and USA – whom Ireland have beaten all nine times they have met – the only other sides guaranteed to be in Lancaster with five lower-ranked sides qualifying from round one.
It will be the first time Ireland will play in the US since 1989’s Intercontinental Cup. For head coach Andrew Meredith, the location of the tournament will also be seen as the lesser of three evils.
The US in the spring has the most similar climate to Ireland of the three second round venues named this week by the FIH. They avoid a trip to the stifling humidity of Singapore and the late summer heat in Cape Town, South Africa.
In the wake of the European championships, Meredith was also worried his side might be forced to play this round of the competition in late 2014.
With an expensive trip to Malaysia for the Champions Challenge I in April on the horizon, this would have made the budget extremely tight to spread over two long-haul tournaments.
But with the competition early in a new year’s budget, it should make planning more manageable.
For the women, Ireland will also be the top seed as 15th in the world in a competition in which they need to finish in the top two to guarantee progression to round three.
Hosts Uruguay, ranked 30th, provide an unknown proposition of sorts for Darren Smith’s side while Azerbaijan are a more familiar opposition.
They will be hoping to improve on their last showing in the World Cup qualification bid, their run ending in round two in Spain.
For both the men and women, Olympic qualification will most likely require a finish in the top four in the third round of the World League but the picture will become clearer as the tournament advances.
On the home front this weekend, the men’s national indoor championships has a forlorn look to it with just three clubs taking part – reigning champions Railway Union, NICS and hosts Queen’s University.
It is a far cry from the 2011 edition when 18 clubs took part at four venues over a month.
But a compacted provincial outdoor season – with February 15 the final date for Leinster league games to be completed – and a 2012/13 indoor competition littered with short notice withdrawals made it an unappetising prospect for many clubs.
The competition will run to completion over the course of the weekend with the three teams playing each twice in a round-robin format.
The women’s competition is similarly affected with five sides taking part with none from Leinster. Galway are the one visiting side with Ulster Elks, Portadown, Ards and Queen’s the other sides.
Men’s Indoor Championships (all at Queen’s University)
Saturday: NICS vs Queen’s, 11.10am; Railway Union vs Queen’s, 1.40pm; NICS vs Railway Union, 3.20pm
Sunday: Queen’s vs Railway Union, 10.20am; Railway Union vs NICS, 12.50pm; Queen’s vs NICS, 3.20pm
Saturday: Queen’s vs Ards, 10.20am; Galway vs Portadown, 12pm; Ards vs Ulster Elks, 12.50pm; Ulster Elks vs Galway, 2.30pm; Queen’s vs Portadown, 4.10pm
Sunday: Galway vs Queen’s, 11.10am; Portadown vs Ards, 12pm; Ulster Elks vs Queen’s, 1.40pm; Ards vs Galway, 2.30pm; Portadown, 4.10pm