Hockey: Ireland bid to secure qualification for Olympic Games
Massive prize on offer for the winners of two-game play-off against Canada this weekend
Ireland coach Mark Tumilty: “If we can apply ourselves and execute our game plan, we’ve got, hopefully, a great opportunity.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Canada v Ireland, Saturday 10 pm and Sunday 9 pm (both times Irish) - Live RTÉ Player and BBC NI website.
The next two weeks will define Irish hockey for the next couple of years as both the men, this weekend, and the women, next weekend, go into a two-match head to head against Canada, the winners gaining direct entry into next summer’s Olympic Games.
What the sport and the Olympic Federation of Ireland would do for that outcome.
The men begin a fortnight of fraught nerves in Rutledge Field, West Vancouver on Saturday against a home side ranked 10th in the world to Ireland’s 13. The rankings are close enough to make little difference as Ireland were in the top 10 in recent years.
The question is whether Ireland have gotten over the trauma of the recent European Championships, where the team was relegated into a lower stream of competition having stunned England to claim an historic European bronze medal in 2015.
In the last World Cup held in India, Ireland also failed to gain entry to the knockout phases and also lost 6-0 to world and European champions Belgium in the final warm-up match before flying out to Canada.
Prior to the Belgium game, Ireland did defeat 12th ranked France in two Test matches in Bordeaux. The question for this weekend is whether the disappointing results have been laid to rest. The optimistic view of it is that Ireland have been underperforming.
Not surprisingly new coach Mark Tumilty assisted by former British player Jason Lee, a Olympic veteran from Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, have targeted team morale as their priority.
“The first thing was to try and turn the squad morale around which hasn’t been a massive challenge,” said Tumilty.
“What are we expecting from Canada this week? I think it’ll be difficult”, he adds. “We’ve identified their style of play. We understand what their strengths are. Hopefully we understand what their weaknesses are.
“They’ve plenty of experience, the same as ourselves. But I think if we can apply ourselves and execute our game plan, we’ve got, hopefully, a great opportunity.”
While the women are hoping to be the first female hockey team to qualify for an Olympics, the men are seeking to become the first to qualify for back to back Games having also played in Rio 2016.
Part of the problem has been since then two coaches, South African Craig Fulton and Netherlands-based Alexander Cox have come and gone with Banbridge man Tumilty the third coach in as many years.
There are 10 of the players from Rio still involved in Vancouver with the emphasis on experience.
IRELAND SQUAD: D Harte (SV Kampong), D Fitzgerald (Monkstown), L Cole (Oree), C Harte (Racing Club de Bruxelles), J Bell (Lisnagarvey), S Loughrey (Reading), J Jackson (Bath Buccaneers), T Cross (Tilburg), D Walsh (KHC Leuven), S Murray (HC Rotterdam), C Cargo (Hampstead & Westminster), S O’Donoghue (KHC Dragons), M Robson (Crefelder HTC), E Magee (Banbridge), J McKee (Banbridge), M Nelson (Lisnagarvey), J Duncan (Oree), P Caruth (Corinthian).