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New World format but Caruth is main Irish worry

by Graham Hamilton

Having tasted life at the Rio Olympics, the Irish men's team are now turning their attention towards reaching their first World Cup finals since 1990 - but if they qualify for the Tokyo series, a brand new format awaits them.

The world's governing body had earlier decided to increase the number of teams from 12 to 16, which gives the Irish men, and indeed women, a better chance of making it through.

But now they have decided that two pools of eight are too cumbersome, and so they've announced that there will be four pools of four instead and that the team that finishes bottom of each pool will automatically be eliminated.

In effect that means that four nations will use considerable money and preparation to get to Tokyo and end up on their way home after just THREE games.

Those finishing second and third in their pools go into a cross-over phase with those emerging on top joining the four pool winners in the quarter-finals.

The strong nations naturally like the idea but the minnows feel that to put so much time, money and effort into qualifying, but be guaranteed just three games, is unfair to say the least.

To add insult to injury, if the minnows did make it to the cross-overs, they end up playing an extra game than the stronger teams.

That is why they feel the new format is heavily loaded to ensure the top teams reach the finals at the expense of the smaller nations.

Neither Irish team would have it easy, but first things first, and that is to ensure qualification.

The Irish women head off to Kuala Lumpur soon for the first phase of their qualifying process, the World League 2 series, while the men are starting to build up towards their equivalent which is to be staged in Belfast at the Stormont Playball arena in March.

Men's coach Craig Fulton is awaiting word on striker Peter Caruth, who injured his ankle in Annadale's 8-1 Kirk Cup final success over Cookstown.

Caruth had previously been sidelined for 18 months after his ankle needed major surgery, although in a remarkable recovery, he made it to the Rio Olympics.

But there is a possibility that this latest setback could rule him out of the March qualifier, which would be a major blow for him and the Irish team.

The player, his club and the international team wait anxiously to see what the X-rays reveal.

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