Having seen their plans of an ambush against world number one side Australia fall just short, Ireland’s men now assume the opposite role as they look avoid the trap laid by China today in their second World Cup group game (1.30pm, BT Sport).
Recent history and world rankings peg the Green Machine as clear favourites, winning each of their four meetings in the last decade. The most recent was a 6-0 thumping in the Olympic qualifying process in 2015.
Victory would push Ireland on the brink of a place in the crossover stage of the competition. But the Asian side are one of the major enigmas in this tournament in India with precious little video footage of use available.
They withdrew from the Asian Games in September while five of their panel are playing in their first international tournament, making them an unknown entity.
While the world number 17 side are vastly inexperienced by comparison with Ireland, they did stun England last Friday with a late 2-2 draw.
And Irish coach Alexander Cox saw enough in it to know they will make life very uncomfortable with chances set to be at a premium.
“They are a very difficult team to play,” he said. “England created some chances but it was difficult to get goal-shots because they defend with a lot of players in the 25 and circle.
“It’s tough to create a lot. They play a good counter-attack, use a lot of aerials which means we have to be sharp and have enough cover. You can’t just attack and see what happens.
“It’s also a side we don’t have a lot of information on. They haven’t been playing with this team for a while. We struggled to get video of them.”
Cox was able to get some clips of the Chinese practice matches against Canada but it proved to be useless with a different squad named.
As such, not meeting China first has been a big benefit as his video team now have something tangible to work with.
“I don’t know how much info England had but it really helps us to have seen that game and have that information.”
They will have seen Xiaoping Guo’s glorious stick skills and Talake Du’s powerful drag-flick among the key elements to counter-act.
Most importantly, it will likely mean a change of approach. Against the Kookaburras, Ireland were content to sit deep and try and pick off speedy breaks without over-committing.
Do that again and this risks being a stalemate and so Shane O’Donoghue’s call for a more direct approach with probably be heeded.
On the health front, Eugene Magee is improving with each day having broken bones in two fingers in the last training session before Ireland travelled to India.
He played a full role on Friday and Cox says he is able to cope with the pain a bit easier with each passing day.
Saturday was spent debriefing the first game while Sunday was a day to try and lift the cabin fever and clear the heads. While Bhubaneswar has gone wild for the World Cup, it is not a massive tourist hub and so distractions are not so plentiful as the women’s event in the summer.
As such, the Irish team have been holed up in their hotel for the most part but they did get a welcome visit from the cohort of friends and family on Friday evening.
** Can’t get enough of the World Cup? Here are The Hook’s recommendations for other sites to have a look at:
– Times of India is the most comprehensive website for everything in and around the event: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/hockey/2018-mens-hockey-world-cup
– The good people at Scorrd is running a great Fantasy Hockey competition: https://scorrd.com/fantasy/
– The Reverse Stick podcast is going daily; join John and Matt for their irreverent look at the day’s action: http://thereversestick.net/podcastgen/
– The Hockey Paper is running a daily newsletter which you can subscribe to: https://www.thehockeypaper.co.uk/newsletter?fbclid=IwAR3DEgwoXWoDnq_kOFis2h6POWwi99vacdFF89KIHpbAxr0SIgfLvgiKrvs
– Lots of analysis and interviews on the Hockey India Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8pVC6z6eU_gO7SBzkrTg1w/videos