Ireland’s men and women will skip through to the second phase of the new Olympic and World Cup process which the FIH formally launched this week, entitled the Hockey Series.
The Series replaced the World League but initially starts in a similar format with two rounds of tournaments – with Ireland’s men and women entering the fray at the second stage – before it deviates into a two-legged all-or-nothing playoff for a ticket to the major events.
As always, there is plenty of complexity. Going back to the beginning, all FIH National Associations not participating in the highly controversial Hockey Pro League – scheduled to get underway in 2019 – will be eligible to enter the Hockey Series Open with the majority of these getting underway this summer.
A minimum of 15 nations will qualify from Open to the Series Finals. There, they will meet the top nine nations in the FIH Hero World Rankings not playing in the Hockey Pro League which is scheduled to get played in the first half of 2019.
Each of the Hockey Series Finals will have eight nations playing in them and will take place at three venues across the world between May and June 2019.
The top two nations from each of the Hockey Series Finals will then be guaranteed berths in the new Olympic Qualification Events.
They will be joined by the top four nations from the Hockey Pro League and the two highest placed nations in the FIH Hero World Rankings (at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships) not already qualified via the Hockey Series Finals or Pro League.
The 12 men’s and 12 women’s nations will compete for a total of six spots in the Olympic Games, with the winners joining hosts Japan and the five continental champions who automatically qualify for Tokyo 2020.
The six Olympic Qualification Events will each feature two nations playing two back-to-back matches, with nations drawn to play each other based on their rankings at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships.
The nation who scores the highest aggregate score over the two matches will qualify for the Olympics. The Olympic Qualification Events are scheduled for October and November 2019 and the matches will be hosted by the higher ranked of the two competing nations.
Elsewhere, Hockey Ireland confirmed over 80 internationals across senior and underage levels between now and the end of July, starting on May 18 when the Irish men face Germany in Pembroke while the Under-16 boys and girls play matches in Dusseldorf.
In addition to that series for the senior men, they will also face France three times in Cork and the USA twice at Grange Road. At the end of July, Craig Fulton’s side go to Dusseldorf for a tournament against Argentina, Germany and France.
The senior women face Scotland three times, England twice, host Canada three times and then play Germany three times in June. July sees them place a three-game series against Japan and then play a three-nation event with Chile and Italy as their final warm-up for the World Cup.
The Under-21 men have an eye-catching series in New York against USA, Japan and Argentina in June as their summer focus.
The Under-21 women play England and Wales across six matches before forming the majority of an Under-23 selection to play in a Six Nations event in Belgium.
For the Under-18s, Santander will host the European championships for boys and girls in while the Under-16s host a Six Nations invitational event in Cork from July 15 to 21.
It is quite an undertaking on all fronts, one which has been helped by Eugene F Collins’ sponsorship of underage girls teams. In addition, the JAG Girls golf classic at Powerscourt last week brought in €24,000 and was enough of a success to be booked in again for Friday, April 12, 2019.
** To see the full schedule of international games this summer, click here: http://sportlomo-userupload.s3.amazonaws.com/uploaded/galleries/8089_uploaded/2496db2bd00775380b3760ca86a5892133ed131b.pdf