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Ireland on cloud nine with their highest ever ranking

 

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men have risen to an all-time high of nine in the world rankings - and that further step up the ladder means they will be heading to South Africa for the final World Cup qualifier in July.

The Green Machine won the World League 2 series at Stormont last month and the additional ranking points helped overtake Spain, and now they will head to Johannesburg for the World League 3 series from which a top seven finish from 10 should guarantee a place in the 2018 World Cup finals.

The last time the Irish reached the world finals was back in 1990, but coach Craig Fulton has engraved a winning mentality into his squad and now there is every chance they will bridge that 28 year gap.

The other nations heading to Joburg are Australia (2), Germany (3), Belgium (5), New Zealand (8), Spain (10), Japan (16), France (17) and Egypt (19), with hosts South Africa ranked 15.

That means Fulton's lads will probably be pooled with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and France ... and with two of those ranked beneath them, they should reach the quarter-finals from which a top seven finish is a reasonable possibility.

The other World League 3 series will be in London and joining hosts England (7) will be Argentina (1), Netherlands (4), India (6), Canada (11), Korea (12), Pakistan (13), Malaysia (14), China (18) and Scotland (23).

Ulster players would be expected to supply around half of the 18-strong Ireland squad, while Mark Gleghorne, David Ames and Ian Sloan are likely to be named in the England squad and Ben Cosgrove in the Scotland squad.

Lisnagarvey's Jonathan Bell skippered the Irish to success at Stormont and is looking forward to the series in what is coach Fulton's homeland.

But first he has other things on his mind - Garvey go to rivals Banbridge this evening in a crucial Irish Hockey League clash.

Bann are full of confidence after a tremendous performance in winning the Irish Senior Cup on Sunday and are turning their attention to a possible all-Ireland league and cup double.

Their place is already assured for the end-of-season Irish Championship play-offs, but Garvey are anxious to join them as they also seek a place in Europe.

The situation is that Garvey need one win from their final three games - the other two are away to Instonians on Saturday and home to Monkstown the following week - to finish at worst in fourth place, and that should be enough to reach the play-offs.

But Errol Lutton's lads want to finish higher ... and they also want to end Bann's fine run, even though that might let Three Rock in to land the league title.

Bann have a tough few weeks ahead of them - they face three games in the next five days and both they and Garvey are in Euro action at Easter.

Instonians will be relegated this weekend unless they can come up with shocks at Garvey and at Monkstown.

 

MEN’S SENIOR FIXTURES

TODAY: IHL: Banbridge v L’nagarvey (8pm)

Sussex Cup: Armagh v Ballynahinch (8pm)

SATURDAY: IHL: Instonians v Lisnagarvey (3pm); Banbridge v UCD (2.45pm); C of I v Three Rock (2.30pm); Railway v Pembroke (4.15pm); Glenanne v Monkstown (3pm)

Play-offs 1st round (Monkstown): Belfast H’quins v Annadale (12.30pm); YMCA v Belfast H’quins (3.30pm); Annadale v Cork H’quins (5pm)

Senior 1: Queen’s v South Antrim (2.30pm); Bangor v Antrim (2.30pm)

Anderson Cup (2.30pm): Kilkeel v Cliftonville; Civil Service v Campbellians

SUNDAY: IHL: Banbridge v Glenanne (2pm); Monkstown v Instonians (1.50pm)

Play-offs 1st round: Clontarf v Belfast H’quins (9.30am); YMCA v Annadale (11am); Cork H’quins v Belfast H’quins (12.30pm); Clontarf v Annadale (3.30pm)

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