Ireland’s senior women and men’s teams have been drawn in two contrasting groups in World League Round 2 in both travel and competitive terms. For the women, they make the long trip to Malaysia but face a welcoming enough set of opponents while the men have a tough eight-team competition but will enjoy home comforts.
Advance and Ireland will go through to World League Round 3 where the glut of the 16 World Cup qualifying places will be doled out from 20 competing teams. As such, progression will prove a massive step forward to the World Cup.
The women are first in action in what looks a friendly-enough tournament on paper, one which has the highest cumulative world rankings total on paper.
They are the second rated side behind Italy with hosts Malaysia, at 21st, the other well-rated side but the remainder of the competition are ranked outside the top 30 in the world.
Wales could prove a tricky opponent but a robust and physical Kazakhstan (31), Thailand (35), Singapore (44) and Fiji (59) would not normally challenge an on-form Ireland.
The total world ranking points come to 251, far above the 183 for the WL2 tournament taking place in Vancouver, an event featuring six sides inside the world’s top 24.
The other tournament, which takes place in Valencia, has six sides in the world’s top 30, suggesting that Ireland’s group will be the friendliest in terms of potential opposition. That will be tempered, however, by the humidity and the travel to the far east with three local sides on the opposition list.
To guarantee progression, Ireland need to finish in the top two in the tournament which runs from January 14 to 22 in Kuala Lumpur. A third place finish could also be enough. This is based on whether they are one of the two best-ranked sides from the three WL2 tournaments to finish third.
For the men, despite being favourites with home advantage, they have been drawn the toughest of the three World League Round 2 tournaments in what could be a very competitive competition in Ulster from March 11 to 19.
As world number 10s and the only Olympic side from the summer, Craig Fulton’s side will be the team to beat but there does not look to be any easy matches – bar Ukraine and Italy – in the competition.
France, the world number 17, have been on the rise in recent years, pushing Belgium all the way for a place in the 2016 Olympic Games with a squad built around players who reached the 2012 Junior World Cup final.
Austria (22) are another side with plenty of ability and experience playing in top teams around Europe like Michael Korper (Harvestehuder THC), Robert Bele (Royal Daring) and Benjamin Stanzl (Oranje-Rood).
Wales are on a high since winning World League 1 in Glasgow and, along with Scotland, have deceptively low world rankings having received no points for the Olympic cycle in the last two years due to GB not selecting any of their players. Throw in an ultra-competitive Polish side and it will be a big battle.
Ireland’s tournament has a total world ranking of 194; the tournament in Dhaka, Bangladesh is 265 while the other in Trinidad & Tobago is 223, showing how much higher the standard is likely to be.
The tournament has been set for Ulster with site visits at Stormont and Lisnagarvey’s Hillsborough home in recent times. The other good news is that a top three finish for Ireland, as the best ranked side across all WL2 events, will allow progression.
Like the women’s events, the top two in each tournament are guaranteed to advance with the highest two ranked third place finishers across the three WL2 tournaments going through. Should Ireland finish third, they are guaranteed to be the top rated on the world list and will progress.
Speaking about hosting the upcoming tournament in March, Hockey Ireland CEO Rob Johnson said: “We’re delighted and excited to be hosting WL2 on a number of fronts.
“First, it is a prestigious event for Hockey Ireland to be hosting. Our men’s team will be playing in front of a home crowd who will be giving them an extra edge. It also gives an opportunity for the fans to see the Rio team in action on home turf and will be a great opportunity for the hockey community to get together.”
Women’s World League Round 2 groups (all 2017)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from January 14-22: Ireland (16), Italy (15), Malaysia (21), Thailand (35), Kazakhstan (31), Singapore (44), Fiji (59), Wales (30)
Valencia, Spain from February 4-12: Spain (11), Scotland (17), Czech Republic (26), Poland (20), Ukraine (34), Russia (28), Ghana (29); one more to be confirmed
Vancouver in Canada from April 1-9: India (12), Belarus (19), Canada (18), Mexico (33), Trinidad and Tobago (32), Uruguay (23), Chile (22), France (24)
Men’s World League Round 2 groups
Ulster, Ireland from March 11-19: Ireland (10), France (17), Poland (19), Ukraine (27), Italy (35), Wales (36), Scotland (28), Austria (22)
Dhaka, Bangladesh from March 4-12: Canada (12), Oman (31), Egypt (20), Bangladesh (32), China (18), Sri Lanka (42), Ghana (43), Fiji (67)
Tunapuna in Trinidad and Tobago from March 25 until April 2: Malaysia (14), Japan (16), Russia (21), Trinidad and Tobago (34), USA (29), Barbados (54), Chile (25), Switzerland (30)