Hockey: Irish men can home in on Olympics
The Irish men might never have a better chance of making it to the Olympic Games hockey finals.
That's the opinion of Ulsterman Stephen Martin who won both gold and bronze medals during his hockey career and is now the Olympic Council of Ireland's chief executive.
The International Hockey Federation's decision to give Dublin the go-ahead to stage one of three Olympic Qualifiers in March gives the men a decided advantage, even though they are not the highest ranked team of the six nations taking part.
"The Irish Hockey Association should be congratulated on their successful bid to host an Olympic qualification tournament," says Stephen.
"And if the men's team can build on their high level of performance at the recent Eurohockey Nations Cup championships, the addition of home advantage should give them their best ever chance of Olympic qualification.
"The Olympic Council, of course, will continue to assist Irish Hockey to achieve this goal."
Stephen is one of the few players from these shores to sample the unique atmosphere at an Olympic Games and it is his wish that others can follow in his footsteps.
He won bronze with Great Britain at Los Angeles in 1984, gold at Seoul in 1988 and then captained them at Barcelona in 1992.
And since that he has stayed in the Olympic fold, firstly as deputy chief executive at the British Olympic Association and deputy Chef de Mission at the 2000 Games in Sydney, the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City, the 2004 Games at Athens and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.
Now based in Dublin, he would love to see an Irish team make it London 2012, be it men or women or preferably both.
The women won't have home advantage, but at least they're getting a relatively short trip to Belgium, which means they won't have to worry about climatisation.
The men are ranked third of the six nations, behind Korea and Malaysia and ahead of Russia, Chile and Ukraine.
The main threat comes from Korea and Malaysia, but national coach Paul Revington and his players certainly won't fear them — they have a good record against Malaysia while a rare game against the Koreans during the summer saw the Irish win 5-1.
There is every chance Korea may have a stronger team available for the Qualifier, but whether they travel well, whether they like the Irish weather in March, and whether they can cope with a fanatical Irish crowd during St St Patrick's Day celebrations remains to be seen!
"To host the men's event is a real privilege and a fabulous opportunity for the team to highlight the progress they have made in front of home crowds and for the sport to build on the profile of the event," said Ireland's High Performance director Dave Passmore.
"The women's team will be pleased to be close to home and competing against teams that they know well — Spain, Belgium, Russia and France, as well as Mexico.”