Ireland’s Olympic qualifying path became slightly clearer with confirmation of the final sides to play in June’s Hockey Series Finals.
For the women, world number 35 side Singapore have been added to the eight-team line-up and, as such, will likely be one of the Green Army’s group stage opponents in Dublin.Based on previous tournament formats, the Czech Republic (19th) and Malaysia (22nd) would be the expected opponents with Korea (11th), Scotland (18th), Ukraine (27th) and France (32nd) in the other group – subject to confirmation by the FIH.
Graham Shaw’s side are the highest ranked nation at eighth and will be gunning for a top two finish overall which guarantees a place in a direct Olympic qualifying tie later in 2019.
Most of his side arrived back in Ireland this week after a reasonably productive camp in Chile – sharing the results of a four game series – though it did leave a few injury issues to be ironed out.
“We introduced four new players to the squad who all blended in fantastically well,” he said. “Our focus was training and building our connections and growing our culture going into a busy year. We definitely made another step forward.
“The disappointing factor was the amount of injuries we picked and freak injuries at that. Megan Frazer and Gill Pinder will be out for a few weeks and we hope they recover well. Zoe Wilson and Roisin Upton also picked up injuries and we will have to assess them in the next week.”
Next on their agenda is a trip to Granada in February for a two-match series against Spain.
On the men’s side, Ukraine (25th) and a very dangerous Egyptian side (20th) complete the line-up for the Irish men’s Hockey Series Finals tournament in Le Touquet, France in June.
Ireland, at eleventh, will again be the top ranked side and so can expect a group stage featuring Singapore (40th), Egypt and Scotland (22nd) with Chile (34th), France (15th), Korea (17th) and Ukraine on the opposite side of the draw.
For both the men’s and women’s competitions, the format is slightly tweaked from the one used in the last few years of international qualifiers.
Rather than all four sides going through to the quarter-finals, the group winner will go straight into the semi-finals while second and third in the groups will play crossover games to potentially join them, mirroring the method used in the World Cup.