The Irish men's hockey team have dropped one place in the International Hockey Federation (FIH) world rankings since they exited the Hockey World Cup in India last December at the pool stage, losing to England in their final match.
Like the women's national team, the men lost their coach Craig Fulton last year six months before the competition, with Alexander Cox taking over at short notice. However, the drop from 10th place to 11th should not hurt Irish chances of progressing to the complicated next stage of the Olympic qualifying process for Japan 2020.
The FIH has come up with a truly complex and idiosyncratic qualification passage to Tokyo. Earlier this month the the governing body announced the groups and schedule for the Hockey Series Finals (Olympic qualifiers) in Le Touquet, France, in June. Ireland will sit in Pool A with Egypt, Scotland and Singapore, while Pool B has France, Korea, Ukraine and Chile.
It is the next stage of the series where Ireland are likely to meet much stronger teams as Egypt are ranked 20th, Scotland 23rd and Singapore 36th. The chances of an Irish progression are strong.
Hosts France, ranked 15th in the world, are expected to be Ireland’s toughest opponents once the cross-over phase of the competition begins.
The important thing is for Ireland to get to the final as two teams progress from Le Touquet to the Olympic Qualification Event, where the two qualifiers will join teams that are probably all ranked higher than Ireland.
Ultimately for the final phase and entry to Japan in 2020, nations will be drawn to play a two-legged tie to determine the six nations to join those six already qualified, such as hosts Japan and the five continental champions.
The women’s event in June that was recently moved from Dublin to Banbridge because of sub-standard playing facilities is a similar competition to the men’s competition, and is the first stage of an Olympic qualifying pathway.