Ireland’s men’s and women’s teams still in the hunt for Olympics spots

If both sides draw their final pool games, they will reach the semi-finals of their qualifiers

There were mixed fortunes for Ireland’s men’s and women’s teams at their Olympic qualifying tournaments in Valencia on Monday, the women trouncing Ukraine 8-0 while the men lost 4-2 to reigning Olympic champions Belgium.

But the upshot for both sides is the same – if they draw their final pool games they will reach the semi-finals of their qualifiers and keep alive their hopes of the top three tournament finishes they require to book a place in Paris this summer.

After Saturday’s battling defensive display earned them a scoreless draw against top seeds Belgium, the women turned on the attacking style against Ukraine with an eight-goal blitz in the space of 36 minutes, half their goals coming in the final quarter.

In all, seven Irish players got their names on the scoresheet against the tournament’s lowest-ranked side, although there were 19 minutes on the clock before Sarah Torrans broke the deadlock. The floodgates opened thereafter, Niamh Carey, Hannah McLoughlin, Deirdre Duke, Roisin Upton, Beth Harper, Torrans again and captain Katie Mullan piling on the goals.


That result briefly gave Ireland top spot in their pool, but Belgium leapfrogged them on goal difference – by one – later in the day when they hammered Korea 10-1. And it is Korea that Ireland meet at 6.15pm on Tuesday evening, a draw enough for Sean Dancer’s side to advance to the semi-finals.

Korea are ranked higher than Ireland, but having put just three goals past Ukraine and shipped those 10 against Belgium, their form thus far in the tournament has been some distance short of convincing. Ireland will, then, fancy their chances of upsetting the seeding.

Barring the mother of all shocks, Belgium will comfortably beat Ukraine in their final pool game, which will be played earlier on Tuesday, so top spot would be up for grabs on goal difference if Ireland could beat Korea. The pool winners are likely to play Britain in the semi-finals, with the runners-up probably facing a meeting with hosts Spain. Not that Ireland will be looking that far ahead, they’ve slipped at this hurdle before.

Another Asian side stands between the men’s team and a place in the semi-finals, Japan their opponents in Wednesday’s final pool game (6.15pm).

The men put up a gutsy display against Belgium, the world’s number two ranked side, having fallen 2-0 behind to a first quarter goal from Felix Denayer and a penalty corner strike from Alexander Hendrickx in the second period.

Ben Johnson pulled a goal back on 21 minutes with a brilliant swivel and shot past Vincent Vanasch, but William Ghislain restored Belgium’s two-goal advantage with a strike in to the roof of the net on the stroke of half-time. Thibeau Stockbroekx made it 4-1 soon after the break, but Matthew Nelson reduced the deficit again on 53 minutes.

That fightback means Ireland have a healthy goal difference advantage over Japan, so a draw will suffice on Wednesday for them to take second behind Belgium in the pool. And that would – again – more than probably set up a semi-final meeting with Spain.

If the men and women were to make the semi-finals but fall at that hurdle, then they would both go in to a third place play-off, which would be their final chance of Olympic qualification.

Ireland (women): E Murphy, S McAuley, R Upton, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan, H McLoughlin, N Carroll, C Beggs, K McKee, D Duke, B Harper. Subs: M Carey, N Carey, S Torrans, E Neill, E Curran, C Watkins.

Ireland (men): D Harte, T Cross, J McKee, D Walsh, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J Duncan, M Robson, L Cole, N Page. Subs: L Madeley, M Nelson, P McKibbin, J Lynch, S Hyland, B Johnson.

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times