Teen Nelson called up by Ireland for a World series
Lisnagarvey's teenage striker Matthew Nelson has defied the odds by being named in Ireland’s 18-man squad for the World League 2 series which starts at Stormont on Saturday.
Nelson — one of 10 Ulster players named in the 18-strong panel yesterday — is the only one who hasn’t come through the U21 ranks yet but has blossomed so much under the wing of Garvey coach Errol Lutton.
Altogether there are 11 Ulstermen taking part in the series — 10 with Ireland while Banbridge’s Ben Cosgrove, now based in Dundee, has declared for Scotland and been named in their panel which means he could face some of those whom he played alongside at club and U21 level.
There are nine of the Rio Olympics squad unavailable, either through injury or unable to get time off work after taking sabbaticals last year in the build-up to the Games.
And that’s given Craig Fulton the opportunity to test his rising stars in a major tournament, with a total of eight having no previous experience at this level.
“I’m absolutely delighted and can’t wait until the weekend,” says Nelson. “There is so much to look forward to, with the Europeans in the summer and a possible World League 3 series.
“It’s up to me, and the other young players, to show what we can do at this level, and no doubt we’ll get plenty of help from the experienced players.”
Apart from the experienced Eugene Magee, the forward line is full of young rising stars ... like Bann’s Johnny McKee and Jamie Wright, Garvey’s Nelson and UCD’s Jeremy Duncan.
The midfield also has a few players due to take part in their first world ranking tournament — like Garvey’s Sean Murray and Neal Glassey — but it is a solid looking defence with Lee Cole the only relative newcomer.
National coach Fulton admits that it’s frustrating, but understandable, that he has lost so many experienced players, although he’s confident that the current mix of youth and experience, combined with home advantage, will see his lads qualify for the next stage.
The World League series is used as a World Cup qualifying competition in this two-year cycle and then is used as an Olympic qualifying competition for the next two years.
The Irish, due to their high world ranking of 10, avoided the first qualifying round, and this time they must finish in the top three from eight to make it to the final round where a top seven or eight placed finish from 10 would guarantee a place in the 2018 World Cup finals ... for the first time since 1990.
The Irish are in a pool with Ukraine, Italy and Austria, with the Austrians likely to be the biggest threat, while Pool B favourites are France who are in with Poland, Scotland and Wales, with the French and Polish likely to make it through to the semis.
“We have chosen a mix of exciting youth and senior experience which has been the case for the last four months in our build-up to playing World League 2 in Belfast,” said coach Fulton.
“It’s been a while since Ireland hosted a men’s FIH tournament, so we’re looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd.
“The Stormont venue is looking good and the pitch is playing fast, and we’re eager to start our campaign against Ukraine.”
Fulton’s lads may be ranked the highest, but the absence of so many Olympians means that it’s likely to be a lot closer than anticipated.
Unless the young stars rise to the occasion and show exactly what they can do.
IRELAND: J Bell, M Bell, J McKee, C Cargo, M Nelson, E Magee, N Glassey, S Murray, P Gleghorne, J Wright (all Ulster); D Harte, C Harte, J Jermyn (all Munster); J Carr; R Gormley, S O’Donoghue, L Cole, J Duncan (all Leinster)