Green Machine set for tough but doable away date in West Vancouver

Given the chance from the offers on the table, the Irish men would likely have plumped for a trip to West Vancouver to face Canada for a place at the Tokyo Olympics.

While there are no easy games at this stage in the qualification process, the head-to-head encounters – set for October 26 and 27 – with the red caribous was certainly preferable to a trip to Spain, Great Britain or New Zealand.

Asked for his initial reaction, David Harte said: “There was never going to be an easy draw especially between pot 2 and pot 3! However, it could be said that it is a more favourable draw then facing the likes of the European silver medallists in Spain.

David Harte in action against Canada’s Keegan Pereira in 2016. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“I’m sure Canada will have a similar feeling of getting Ireland in the draw so it will certainly make for a serious battle. 

“Canada have been performing well and for any team to travel to Malaysia and win their FIH Hockey Series event, shows the ability that they have. They have vastly experienced players and many playing overseas in Europe too so they are pretty similar to ourselves.

Eugene Magee concurred: “We’ve faced them before know lot of their players. Definitely not going to be easy and we need to be the best we can be come the end of October.

“Spain are playing very well so good to have avoided them, GB close to home but they are higher ranked, NZ, with the heat over there and, also, they’re a strong team. They didn’t do especially well in Oceania but also good to have avoided them.

“So Canada is a decent draw but certainly can’t be over confident for.” 

Ireland have won five of their last six meetings with Canada and lost just once in 17 meetings dating back to 2005. Their two countries current trajectories, though, are currently on different planes with the Canadians also landing silver at the Pan-American Games.

Ireland, meanwhile, finished second in their FIH Series but finished their summer on a low note with relegation from the top tier in Europe. It saw them end up 13th in the world rankings, confirming an away draw.

Alexander Cox stepped away from the panel in the wake of that tournament with his successor potentially named this week.

That had led to a disruption in preparations with the squad spreading back out across Ireland, England, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium with a new coaching regime bringing some potential changes in training plans in the short term.

“Obviously, we got a lot out of Alex but there was poor timing when he left. It left quite a short time, number one, to find a new coach and, two, to embed that new coach and play well in the qualifiers. But it’ll be a fresh new approach in terms of tactics so I’ll be looking forward to working under the new coach.

“We’ll be looking in the next week or so looking at appointing that new coach, just to get everything in line and look ahead to the challenge.

“Hopefully we will be reinvigorated with a new coach, with a new focus, and solidify the squad a bit more and those standards won’t slip. We need to be sharper in terms of speed and fitness and our basics let us down, especially in the 4-0 defeat by Wales.”

The side will play games in mid-October against France and Euro champions Belgium before the big games.

For Magee, it will be his fourth attempt at Olympic qualification, one successful campaign and two which fell short, and the desire is alive and well to make a mark again.

Eugene Magee in action against Canada in 2016. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“My first one was in New Zealand in 2008; we weren’t all that close in that one! Certainly, in 2012 [eight seconds away from extra time v Korea] … defeats like that give you a real hunger. The way the Europeans panned out, we’ll get that hunger back for success so that’s a positive if we can take one out of it.”

“The Rio experience was absolutely amazing from the get-go, from the preparation around it, to the way an Olympics perceived from outside and the inside – it is what all your dreams are built towards, The first time in the athlete’s village, seeing famous sports people was amazing. It was just nice to be part of it.”

Men’s full Olympic qualifier draw

25/26 October: Spain – France, Valencia
26/27 October: The Netherlands – Pakistan, Amsterdam
26/27 October: Canada – Ireland, West Vancouver
1/2 November: India – Russia, Bhubaneswar
2/3 November: New Zealand – Korea, Stratford
2/3 November: Germany – Austria, Mönchengladbach
2/3 November: Great Britain – Malaysia, London

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