Cork C of I’s Julian Dale and Glenanne’s Sam O’Connor have received the biggest call-ups of their international careers, earning a place in the Irish men’s squad to play in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia.
Dale has nine caps with O’Connnor on seven but neither will have experienced anything of this magnitude to date. It follows Dale’s pair of goals against Scotland – his first international strikes – to nudge coach Craig Fulton for this inclusion while O’Connor showed up well in defence and has been in great form in the EY Hockey League.
The trip runs from March 3 to 10 and is one of the key preparation dates for the Green Machine in 2018 for November’s World Cup.
Ireland will play the Malaysian hosts in the opening game before facing Olympic gold medalists Argentina, England, world number one side Australia and India.
It is the first time Ireland have been invited to the prestigious competition which Australia, India and Malaysia are using as a fine-tuning build-up for the Commonwealth Games.
Head coach Craig Fulton said “This is a fantastic invite and a really important tournament for us as we will play four teams in the top eight. We will also play an ever improving Malaysian team at home in a packed stadium which is always a good experience for us and our Irish players to learn from and to deal with.
“We also have the challenge of getting used to the heat, different kinds of food and the travel aspect of competition eight months out from the World Cup.
“We are working hard as a squad on the back of our trip to Malaga to get a prepared as possible for this fantastic opportunity to play and test ourselves against some of the top teams in world hockey right now. We have our own ambitious objectives we want to achieves to it sets up an exciting challenge for us all.”
Dale is the sole Munster man in the Irish side with Conor and David Harte both on club duty with their professional clubs in Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively. Along with O’Connor, he is one of just two players who have not played a major international tournament while there are 14 of the European Championship squad involved.
Eugene Magee, Ireland’s most capped player, makes his comeback to the squad following an ankle injury that ruled him out of most of the pre-Christmas schedule.
On the home front, Friday night’s back-match between Banbridge and Lisnagarvey has been postponed yet again due to a frozen pitch, leaving Garvey on just eight games played with three to make up on the sides above them.
With four Garvey men in the Irish senior squad for Malaysia, where they will fit in all the back-matches will be a tricky job for their match secretary.
Cork C of I’s men belatedly play their first game of 2018, lining out against Glenanne on Saturday. It was originally scheduled for Sunday but, with cold weather forecast once again, they hope to beat the frost with the change of day.
C of I have already seen their away date in Co Tyrone against Cookstown scuppered by the weather while their Irish Senior Cup quarter-final date with Three Rock Rovers has also gone on the long finger.
As such, there is a danger of Neil Welch’s side going in under-cooked against leaders Glenanne who have wins in the league and the Leinster Senior Cup under their belt since the turn of the year.
Bann will hope they can get the go-ahead for their Sunday game against Railway Union but the forecast does not look great wth temperatures of between 0 and 2 degrees predicted.
The other three Sunday games have slightly better chances with Pembroke hosting Cookstown, Garvey going to Monkstown and Annadale at Three Rock though there are likely to be plenty of calls between the clubs to make sure they get the go-ahead.
Men’s EY Hockey League
Friday: Banbridge v Lisnagarvey, postponed due to frost
Saturday: Glenanne v Cork C of I, 3.30pm, St Andrews College
Sunday: Banbridge v Railway Union, 2.30pm, Havelock Park; Monkstown v Lisnagarvey, 4pm, The Merrion Fleet Arena; Pembroke Wanderers v Cookstown, 2.30pm, Serpentine Ave; Three Rock Rovers v Annadale, 2pm, Grange Road.
Ireland squad for Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (March 3-10, 2018, Ipoh, Malaysia): Jamie Carr (Three Rock Rovers), Mark Ingram (Pembroke), Lee Cole (Royal Oree), Jonny Bell (Lisnagarvey), Paul Gleghorne (Lisnagarvey), Sam O’Connor (Glenanne), Matthew Bell (Crefeld THC), Stuart Loughrey (Reading), Michael Robson (Lisnagarvey), Shane O’Donoghue (Glenanne), Chris Cargo (Hampstead & Westminster), Sean Murray (Lisnagarvey), Stephen Cole (Monkstown), Eugene Magee (Banbridge), Peter Caruth (Annadale), Julian Dale (Cork C of I), Johnny McKee (Banbridge), Alan Sothern (Pembroke)
Fixtures: schedule (all times listed are local):
March 3: Ireland vs Malaysia, 8.30pm
March 4: Ireland vs Argentina, 6pm
March 6: Ireland vs England, 4pm
March 7: Ireland vs Australia, 4.05pm
March 9: Ireland vs India, 6.05pm
March 10: classification matches