Tumilty and Irish men on tenterhooks over allocation of World Cup qualifier places

Irish men’s Mark Tumilty is waiting on tenterhooks for clarification over the men’s 2023 World Cup qualification process, admitting it could have an effect on whether some senior players continue or not. 

The FIH announced in December that all qualification places would be via the continental championships with Europe allocated seven men’s and six women’s tickets of the 16 available at each tournament. 

Brought on by Covid, it is a big change from the previously announced format which was set to see six places available from the various continental championships with the remaining places decided by worldwide home and away playoff contests like the 2020 Olympic qualifiers. 

How exactly those spots get divvied out remains to confirmed with the FIH stating solely: “teams will qualify based on their performance at the final competition of each 2021 Continental Championship”.  

Irish coach Mark Tumilty.

It has left numerous federations across the Europe seeking clarification over exactly how those places will be determined, particularly whether only the “A division” is relevant in this context. 

It that is the case, it would mean Ireland’s men – following their 2019 Euro relegation – would be out of contention already along with all the other countries in the second tier in 2021. 

However, requests are in to ask if the EHF can decide their own format or potentially offer a ticket or two to the B division, opening up the qualification process to more countries.  

It is a frustrating situation for Tumilty, particularly after nearly 15 months with no international fixtures and none confirmed on the horizon. 

“There should be an opportunity to qualify for a World Cup; it can’t be based on how a team did back in 2019, from a tournament no one had any idea would have any bearing on four years’ time,” he told the Hook.  

“The qualification process from the FIH, to me, is a complete and utter shambles. There will be some guys who were 24 then and could be into their 30s for the next World Cup which is madness. 

“I have seen three different qualification processes in relation to the World Cup. It was going to be home and away games, like the Olympic qualifier. Then it was changed to a 12-team tournament with five teams qualifying. Now we have ended up with what the FIH have come up with. 

“We can use Covid as an excuse, but the Olympics is always chopped and changed and the World Cups have chopped and changed. We had the World League then the Hockey Series. 

“A couple of senior guys had taken a break in 2020 which was the right thing for them; they’re all keen to come back in. At that stage, I’m probably honest about it, there’s probably a few who may make a decision as to what their long term career future international career looks like, depending on the World Cup qualification ruling from the EHF and FIH.” 

Tumilty’s panel is currently on a rest period, fortuitously side-stepping a proposed warm-weather trip to South Africa this month. That tournament was also due to feature India, Britain and Belgium but was pulled five days before tip off, meaning Hockey Ireland avoided incurring costly cancelation fees. 

But, otherwise, it has been a bit of a luckless tenure for the Banbridge man between the Tokyo qualifier against Canada and the blank year in 2020. 

Behind closed doors, he has expanded his panel with plenty of young blood who he has been excited to see at close quarters.  

But the development of that talent will need some international fixtures, something that just isn’t possible to plan for the time-being. There are potential invites to the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Four Nation tournaments in Spain among other things but nothing that can be confirmed yet. 

“I was pleased with the progress we made in 2020 with squad games and the regional sessions. We will look to continue that during January, February, March.  

“It has given more players exposure to training more often and exposure to playing with the better players in the country which is important to grow the number of international hockey players that we have on the path to the senior international team. 

“Like everybody, we can’t commit to anything, and the other countries can’t commit to anything definite. Hopefully by the end of quarter one here, we should be able to confirm.  

“It is disappointing not to give the younger guys exposure to international hockey, because I think that’s important, to see what level they’re at, to give him a bit of encouragement as well.  

“But to be fair, the commitment from the players, young and old, has been excellent. I can’t speak highly enough of how hard the group have worked and their attitude. If that’s maintained, I can be very positive and how we can move forward.” 

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