Fulton cautious ahead of Ireland’s World League semi-final campaign
Side has had immaculate run of form in 2017 but will enter contest missing key players
The highly experienced Ronan Gormley is unavailable for Ireland’s World League semi-final campaign. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Irish men’s coach Craig Fulton says he does not “even want to know the stats” following an immaculate run of form in 2017 that has seen his side lose just once in 16 capped international outings.
That list includes victory over Olympic bronze medallists Germany a fortnight ago and was further augmented by a 2-1 success over New Zealand on Tuesday.
But that run of form will count for little if Ireland do not make hay in Johannesburg over the next fortnight at the World League semi-final.
There, World Cup tickets are up for grabs, something that has eluded Ireland since 1990.
“Reading into the stats sets us up for a fall!” he adds. “It’s pleasing to be winning games but we have won nothing yet and haven’t qualified. If we win all the ‘wrong games’ and don’t qualify, it’s pointless.”
“To start believing in stuff like that, that we are unstoppable when we go into the game against South Africa or Egypt . . . if we are not where we need to be then all that goes out the window.”
They start off their campaign on Sunday evening (5pm, Irish time) against the hosts in their five-team group. They follow up with games against 2016 Olympic medallists Belgium and Germany sandwiching a tie against underdogs Egypt.
The initial target is to finish in the top four in the group to reach the quarter-finals. A top five finish overall from the 10 teams will guarantee a place in the World Cup.
Ireland have risen to ninth in the world in the wake of Rio but are a much-changed outfit since then with a number of players unavailable due to work reasons, owing back time to their employers from 2016. In addition, Peter Caruth and Michael Robson also miss out due to injury.
Now, only eight are in situ in South Africa in spite of John Jackson and Alan Sothern’s welcome return.
But among those issues, Ireland have regenerated well with the likes of Sean Murray, Jonny McKee, Matthew Nelson, Neal Glassey and Jeremy Duncan quickly forming new understandings.
“We have produced good results through adversity because the team has changed so much. That is a big tick for the group, the leaders and the youngsters that have come in. It’s really refreshing. We put a lot of emphasis on the culture in the team and everyone is responding.”
Among the notable absentees, Ronan Gormley will miss just a second world ranking tournament in the last decade as he misses out on the Irish men’s World Cup qualifying bid in Johannesburg which gets under way next Sunday.
Since 2007, the defender has only missed out on 2014’s Champions Challenge in Malaysia in an incredible career, taking part in 18 of the last 19 events, amassing a record 256 caps.
Fulton confirmed his exclusion was not a decision based on form but was “inevitable at some point” as work reasons barred the 34-year-old from being involved this week and also August’s Euros.
“He’s not able to get the time off because he has taken a lot of time off in the last 18 months,” Fulton confirmed. “You can’t replace Ronan’s experience so that’s a big challenge.”
As for the group stage, while Ireland sit in the middle of the haves and have nots in terms of ability and resources, Fulton says there will be no specific targeting of matches.
“All of the group games are important. Every game for us, there is an opportunity there. We want to get full points from the games we should supposedly win but this is international sport. You can target whatever you like and then world ranking goes out the window so approach everything at your peril.”
Hockey World League Semi-final schedule
July 9: Ireland vs South Africa, 6pm
July 11: Ireland vs Belgium, 6pm
July 13: Ireland vs Egypt, 12pm
July 17: Ireland vs Germany, 4pm
July 19: Quarter-finals
July 21: Semi-finals; 5th-8th playoffs
July 23: Final, classification matches