The official schedule for the World League 2 tournament has been announced and Ireland has been drawn in a pool with Austria, Ukraine and Italy. The event will be hosted by Ireland and will take place in the Stormont grounds in Belfast on March 11th-19th.
Ireland will face the Ukraine and Austria on the opening weekend of the tournament before finishing out their Pool A group games against Italy on Tuesday, March 14th.
As the top ranked team in the competition and with the experience of qualifying for and competing in the Rio Olympics last August, Ireland goes in as the favourite team to win the tournament.
Ireland currently occupies 10th place in the official world ranking, with France, at 17th place in the world, the next highest ranked nation due to compete in Belfast.
France have been placed in Pool B with Poland (19) , Scotland (28) and Wales (34) and will be expected to end up playing Ireland in the final after the cross over matches take place.
Compared to Rio, it will be a gentle start for Craig Fulton and his Irish side, which is undergoing some change. All but two teams in Rio had higher world rankings than Ireland.
The top two sides from the tournament are guaranteed a place at World League 3 , which is the next stage along a road that Ireland hopes will lead to participation at the 2018 World Cup. That tournament is scheduled to be held from November 28th to December 16th 2018, at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India.
On the Irish scene, the EY Hockey League takes a break as the quarter-finals of the Irish Senior Cup take place this weekend. Two matches take place in Dublin, at UCD and St Columbas School, with Monkstown facing Instonians at Shawsbridge in Belfast and Cork C of I travelling to Havelock Park to play Banbridge.
Irish Senior Cup Quarter-finals: Instonians v Monkstown, Shawsbridge, 1pm; Corinthains v Mossley, St Columba, 2.30pm; Banbridge v Cork C of I, Havelock Park, 2.45pm; UCD v Cookstown, Belfield, 2.50pm