Belfast Telegraph

Commonwealth Games: Ulster duo hope to score for England

By Graham Hamilton

Northern Ireland may have a strong squad competing in Glasgow, but two others from our wee country will also be taking part while wearing England's colours... and they're being tipped for medals.

Mark Gleghorne, from Antrim, and Iain Lewers, from Belfast, are both in England's hockey squad who are ranked to finish in the silver medal position.

And, if they succeed, they will become the first players from Northern Ireland to land a Commonwealth Games hockey medal.

Ulster hockey, of course, can't compete in the Games as it is strictly international teams.

And neither can Ireland, as they are not in the Commonwealth – which is why no-one from here has ever been successful before.

But because Gleghorne and Lewers switched allegiance from Ireland to England almost five years ago, they are eligible to take part.

Both won over 80 caps in the green shirt before their ambition to take part in a major tournament prompted them to switch to the mainland where they are now based.

Since that switch, Lewers was in the Great Britain squad that finished fourth in the 2012 London Olympics, and both were in the England squad that claimed bronze in the World Hockey League last year before finishing fourth in the recent World Cup finals.

Gleghorne will reach a milestone at the Games when he wins his 50th England cap while Lewers will take his combined England and Great Britain tally to the late 90s.

Now the Commonwealth Games beckons for them and England are tipped to go all the way to the final, where they may meet World No. 1 Australia.

England begin their Pool B programme this evening against minnows Trinidad and Tobago (7pm) and are expected to chalk up a comfortable win against a nation ranked 24 places below them on the world ladder.

Then they face World No. 13 Malaysia on Saturday (7pm) before the most difficult pool game next Monday (9am) against New Zealand, who lie just one place below them in the world rankings.

They complete the pool phase against World No. 16 Canada next Wednesday (9am) before moving into the crossover and classification games.

The other pool consists of favourites Australia as well as India who are ranked nine, South Africa who are ranked 12, hosts Scotland who are ranked 25 and Wales, who are ranked the lowest at 31.

Gleghorne, who played his early hockey at Antrim and then Instonians, knows all about Malaysia and New Zealand – he scored against the Asian side in the World Cup finals and also scored against the Black Sticks in the World Hockey League, and is hoping to do the same again.

"This will be the first time I've taken part in a multi-sport event and I'm really excited because they're that little bit different," he said.

"It should be interesting with all the other sports going on, and being such an important event, it should get greater media attention and offer us a chance to put hockey on the map."

Gleghorne missed the London Olympics through injury and so believes this will be something special for him.

"Hockey was really well presented in London and seemed to get the general public interested in the game, so hopefully Glasgow will be the same."

While Gleghorne is expected to get among the goals, it will be Lewers – who began his career with Annadale before having a spell overseas and then moving to England – who will be the pivotal defender expected to keep opposing attacks at bay.

Although not wearing Northern Ireland colours, the duo can still expect considerable support from here – a strong contingent of Ulster hockey fans are going across to Glasgow to offer their backing.

Meanwhile, Wales have suffered a further injury blow with Eloise Laity withdrawing from the women's hockey squad.

The 20-year-old University of Bath student sustained the problem preparing for Glasgow 2014 and has been replaced by Sophie Clayton, who represented her country at the Investec London Cup.

Team Wales chef de mission Brian Davies said: "Sadly I can confirm that Eloise Laity has had to return home to Wales after picking up an injury in training whilst in preparation for the Glasgow Games.

"Twenty-year-old Sophie Clayton will be travelling to Glasgow to join the team as a result, and we look forward to welcoming her shortly.

"Everyone at Team Wales wishes Eloise a speedy recovery and no doubt she'll be back representing her country soon."

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