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Now hockey's Irish men get chance of glory

By Graham Hamilton

Published 19/06/2015

Road to Rio: John Jackson aims to lead Ireland to the Olympics
Road to Rio: John Jackson aims to lead Ireland to the Olympics

Ireland's men have settled down in their Antwerp headquarters and are finalising preparations for the crucial World League 3 tournament which starts tomorrow.

Craig Fulton's squad go into the ten-nation series knowing that they are ranked to finish seventh but the reality is that they now know they need a top-five finish to make it to Brazil.

The 18 players - nine of them from Ulster including skipper John Jackson - have worked tremendously hard and are optimistic they can finally reach the big stage, and they will be taking on Asian giants Pakistan in their final warm-up game.

Eleven of the squad came agonisingly close four years ago but many tears were shed when they lost the qualifying final to Korea's dramatic winner literally seconds from the end.

And they learned yesterday that the Irish women's bold bid took a knock when they lost their quarter-final to China after a shoot-out, and now must go through two more difficult games to see if they can qualify.

That's something the men want to avoid, but they will have to punch above their weight if they are to make it through to the semi-finals.

So exactly what have they to do to ensure they will be on the road to Rio?

First of all, 12 teams will get the chance to play on the Olympic stage - the hosts plus each of the five continental champions.

India have already been crowned Asian champions and three more booked their tickets at the World League 3 series in Buenos Aires earlier this week - Germany, Argentina and Netherlands - and should any of them win their continental championships, fourth and fifth place finishers Canada and Spain, and possibly sixth place New Zealand automatically step up.

Ireland are ranked to finish fourth in Pool B in the Antwerp series and face Great Britain (June 23), Malaysia (June 25), China (June 26) and Belgium (June 28) with favourites Australia, India, Pakistan, Poland and France in the other.

The bottom team in each pool play for 9th-10th places and the remaining four go into the crossover quarter-finals (the top team from one pool plays the fourth in the other, the second team plays the third in the other etc).

A quarter-final win effectively guarantees a place in Rio, but if you lose that game, then it's imperative to win the next two to ensure a fifth place finish from which you should qualify.

If you lose that 5th-6th play-off, then it's into the 7th-8th play-off and, like Dublin four years ago, that would mean tears yet again.

IRELAND: John Jackson, Michael Watt, Chris Cargo, Eugene Magee, Peter Caruth, Paul Gleghorne, Drew Carlisle, Stephen Dowds, Jonathan Bell (all Ulster); Ronan Gormley, Mitch Darling, David Fitzsimmons, Alan Sothern, Kirk Shimmins, Kyle Good, Shane O'Donoghue (all Leinster), Conor Harte, David Harte (both Munster).

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