Men’s Hockey: Craig Fulton runs the rule over Ireland debutants

Keith O’Hare, Jamie Wright, Matthew Nelson and Julian Dale all won caps against Spain

The real bonus for Ireland's Olympic hockey coach Craig Fulton at this stage of the international season is that this week in Spain he was able to hand out four new caps.

Keith O'Hare, Jamie Wright, Matthew Nelson and Julian Dale all earned pitch time against Spain. That Ireland lost both games, Thursday's by 2-1, the winner coming from play four minutes from the end of the match, will probably prove secondary to Fulton having a look at the new faces.

Playing under pressure and against a side ranked next to Ireland at ninth in the world is invaluable as Fulton looks to see what resources has after the Olympic Games in Rio and looking towards the World League event that Ireland hosts in Stormont in March (11th-19th).

Fulton has four months to change Ireland’s outcomes from narrow defeats to wins and, although Spain will not be competing in the Belfast event, the Irish side must finish among the top two places to advance to the next stage of a lengthy process that could ultimately lead to to them playing in the next FIH World Cup in 2018.


But first things first.

Ireland face teams from France, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Wales, Scotland and Austria. As hosts and as the highest-ranked team in the tournament, Ireland will be favourites to get to the final.

France are the closest in the world rankings at 17th to Ireland’s 10th place with team such as Poland, Austria, Ukraine and Scotland well down the rankings at 19th, 21st, 26th and 28th respectively.

A win in Stormont would propel Ireland towards a June competition called the World League semi-finals, the next stage towards possible World Cup inclusion.

Domestically the EY Hockey league takes a break for a week before resuming next week as it approaches the halfway stage.

Monkstown after seven matches lead with 16 points although the teams chasing them have a game in hand. Banbridge are two points back and Cork C of I three points adrift.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times