Hockey: Ireland confident ahead of rematch with Czech Republic
Ticket to October’s direct Olympic qualifiers on the line for Green Machine in semi-final
Ireland’s Ayeisha McFerran and Chloe Watkins celebrate after the 11-0 victory over Singapore in the FIH Series Finals Pool A clash at Banbridge. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Ireland’s women will go into their semi-final of the FIH Series Finals as huge favourites as they face a rematch with the Czech Republic with a ticket to October’s direct Olympic qualifiers on the line.
Last Sunday, the Green Army hammered the world-ranked number 19 side 8-1 in a complete performance in the group stages.
And there was little in their quarter-final tie on Thursday evening to suggest they will offer a bigger challenge this time out as they laboured to a low-quality 0-0 with Scotland, prevailing in a shoot-out. Victory on Saturday will ensure a top two finish and a place in a head-to-head contest that will decide the tickets to Tokyo.
The Irish men, meanwhile, begin their campaign with a double-header at the French resort of Le Touquet, facing Scotland on Saturday and Egypt on Sunday.
Like the women, they go into the competition as top seeds and a top-two finish would secure an Olympic qualifier next October.
After a tough World Cup campaign, coach Alexander Cox has shaken up both personnel and formation. Olympians Alan Sothern, Kirk Shimmins and David Fitzgerald have been left out while Chris Cargo is unavailable, with Luke Madeley, Ben Walker and Jamie Carr from the hugely successful Three Rock Rovers panel coming in.
Given a wide selection of recognised midfielders, Cox’s selection looks lighter in terms of out-and-out attackers but he says it will fit his vision of playing two up front and suit plans to introduce a more zonal defensive platform.
Ireland’s last meeting with Scotland was a 5-1 win in 2018 and their opponents have not beaten the Green Machine in their last 20 meetings. In addition, they will be without their two best players – Chris Grassick and Alan Forsyth – who will line out for Great Britain instead this weekend in the Pro League.
Indeed, given Scotland cannot qualify for the Olympics, questions have been raised over why they are playing at these events with only ranking points on the line. Egypt, meanwhile, are a dogged opponent who Ireland took a while to shake off in 2017 but they ultimately prevailed 2-1.