Ireland in Spain to prepare for World League 2 event in Belfast
Craig Fulton’s side face France and Spain as they focus on Stormont challenge in March
Craig Fulton: “We are really looking forward to playing World League 2 in Belfast. The main goal is to qualify for the World Cup and this is the first step in that process.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
The 21-man Ireland squad begin their the year in Spain this weekend with Stormont firmly on their mind.
With Craig Fulton announcing his first selection of players of 2017 with the long-term aim of World Cup qualification and an even longer-term aim of another tilt at the Olympic Games in 2020, this trip is the beginning of a much longer journey.
Ireland’s first game on Monday against France could well be the final of the World League 2 event, which Ireland are hosting in Belfast’s Stormont in March.
France are ranked 17th in the world but Spain have a lower rank of nine, one better than Ireland’s current high of 10, which should make for a competitive Tri-Nations event.
The Irish team will play both countries twice starting with France on Monday in Benalmadena before facing hosts Spain on Tuesday in Malaga. Banbridge supply the bulk of the players with five from the Co Down club led by the indefatigable Eugene Magee.
Some young blood in the shape of Ben Walker and Sam O’Connor is included with more experienced players such as Magee and Krefeld’s Ronan Gormley.
O’Connor is the son of Ann and Ray O’Connor, both Glenanne stalwarts, with Ray at one stage of his career the top umpire in world hockey and one of Ireland’s Olympic representatives. He took charge of two Olympic finals in Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004.
“It’s been five years since we hosted a senior men’s tournament in Ireland,” said Irish coach Fulton.
One familiar face missing from the squad is goalkeeper David Harte, who is currently contracted to playing in the professional Hockey India League as the most expensive goalkeeper. He lines out for Dabang Mumbai. Harte will, however, be available for the Stormont event as his Indian stint finishes on February 20th.
IRELAND squad: J Bell (Lisnagarvey), M Bell (Banbridge), L Cole (Monkstown), P Gleghorne (Lisnagarvey), R Gormley (Krefeld), C Harte (Racing), S O’Connor (Glenanne), C Cargo (Hamstead&Westminster), J Wright (Banbridge), S O’Donoghue (Glenanne), N Glassey (Lisnagarvey), P Brown (Banbridge), S Murray (Lisnagarvey), E Magee (Banbridge), J McKee (Banbridge), M Nelson (Lisnagarvey), J Dale (Cork C of I), J Duncan (UCD), B Walker (TRR), J Carr (TRR), M Ingram (Pembroke).