Australia Oceania Cup win can secure Ireland Olympics spot

World champions face New Zealand in Cup final in the early hours of Sunday morning

The Irish senior men’s panel will gather in Dublin in the early hours of Sunday morning to watch online their Rio 2016 fate decided by Australia and New Zealand in the Oceania Cup final.

Should the world number one Australian side win, it will hand Ireland their first Olympic hockey berth since 1908 and will be the first team sport from the island confirmed for the Games since 1948.

It makes for a tense few days for Craig Fulton. His side did all they could to push their chances earlier this year, crucially finishing fifth at World League Round 3 in Antwerp in July, beating higher-ranked Pakistan and Malaysia.

That outcome saw Ireland miss out on one of the three automatic tickets to Rio but they were placed third on a list of lucky losers.


Since then, they have been playing the waiting game for each continental championship to conclude. Each tournament offers one Olympic place but if the continental winner has already qualified via the World League, the next ticket goes to a lucky loser.

Favourable results

As such, Ireland moved up to first reserve following favourable results at the European and Pan-American Championships and they now require just one more favour.

It means all eyes will be on the live streams starting at 4am on Sunday morning when the final tips off.

Striker Peter Caruth said it has been an anxious few months:"You want to not think about it but you can't help but think about it!

“Waiting is the hardest thing to do. We’re all very excited and very nervous at the same time. It’s been hard to stay focussed on our training and it will be hard to watch when it comes to Sunday, knowing we need just one result to take us to Rio and the dream.”

Should things run to form, Australia should have too much for the Black Sticks. The world champions won 3-1 in the preliminary stages on Thursday morning and have won the last eight editions of the Oceania Cup.

New Zealand’s need, however, is much greater and on home soil they are sensing some blood against their biggest rivals.

The Aussies have rested several of their 2014 World Cupwinning panel while head coach Graham Reid did not travel with the side,leaving assistant Paul Gaudoin in charge.

Indeed, the system set up by the International Hockey Federation that sees a qualified nation able to use tournaments as a testing ground against nations still to qualify has drawn widespread criticism.

Many top coaches have called for the continental championships to be played prior to the World League Round 3.

The suggestion would eliminate the waiting period and give sides direct targets for qualification, allowing players to enjoy the moment on the pitch rather than, hopefully, in a clubhouse 12 time zones away in the early hours of the morning.

On home soil, the playing action is confined to the Intervarsities over the weekend while the Subway All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships finals are on today in Belfast.

Stephen Findlater

Stephen Findlater

Stephen Findlater is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about hockey