The Irish men and women’s teams have both been handed typically tough draws for next year’s European Championships which will take place in Antwerp in August 2019.
The women have been grouped with England – who beat them 1-0 in the World Cup groups – as well as fifth ranked Germany and outsiders Belarus.
The men, meanwhile, face a Netherlands side going for three European titles in a row, sixth rated Germany and Scotland. For both tournaments, the top two in the pools go through to the semi-finals while the bottom two contest the relegation pool.
It is the first potential Olympic qualifier with the overall winner earning a ticket to Tokyo 2020. The other route for Ireland is via the World Series with Hockey Ireland confirming last week they have put their hands up to host the next phase of that competition for both men and women in the spring.
The Series currently has a host-venue slot open for an eight-team event which Ireland would need to finish in the top two. Winning the rights ensure they avoid a costly tournament away to one of the already confirmed events with Malaysia for the men or Japan for the women a possibility.
With both Irish sides likely to be top seeds for this round of the qualifiers, a successful bid is likely to be dependent on whether the national body can prove they have a suitable venue.
Currently, UCD’s National Hockey Stadium is out of commission due to its turf losing its FIH approved status a couple of years ago. The college was due to replace this summer but has yet to carry out the work with the full works now looking set to be done next summer instead.
Should the new turf be put in place, the venue would tick all the boxes as a drop-in venue with a track record of hosting tournaments at this level with additional buildings less than elsewhere.
Otherwise, the likes of Banbridge, Stormont and the Mardyke at UCC have pitches and some of the infrastructure in place to host such an event but would need to build additional structures to make them operational.
EuroHockey Championships, (Women & Men), Antwerp (BEL), 16-25 August 2019
MEN’S POOL A (MA): Belgium, England, Spain, Wales
MEN’S POOL B (MB): Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Scotland
WOMEN’S POOL A: Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Russia
WOMEN’S POOL B: England, Germany, Ireland, Belarus