Hockey: Olympic goal a step closer
The Irish international men's team's chances of reaching the London 2012 Olympic finals have vastly increased after Dublin was confirmed as a host for one of three qualifying competitions.
The Fair City will stage the six-nation tournament from March 12-18 and with home advantage it gives Paul Revington's squad a better chance of reaching the Olympic arena for the first time.
As predicted in the Belfast Telegraph last Wednesday, the Irish will face opposition from Korea, Malaysia, Russia, Chile and Ukraine with just the winners progressing. The two other qualifying tournaments will be held in India and Japan.
Korea will provide the biggest threat as they are ranked sixth in the world whereas Ireland are ranked 17th, but whether the Asians are good travellers or not remains to be seen.
Malaysia are ranked 14th, Russia 20th, Chile 24th and Ukraine 30th.
The women, who are ranked 14th in the world, will head to Beerschot in Belgium from March 17-25 where they will face Spain (11), Belgium (16), Russia (21), France (25) and Mexico (30).
National coach Paul Revington won't be too unhappy with the men's draw, and if his players can reproduce the same kind of form they displayed during the summer when they won the Celtic Cup, the Champions Challenge II and finished a record fifth in the Eurohockey Nations Cup, then home advantage might just be the extra ingredient to see them through.
Meanwhile Banbridge have signalled their intent on winning the Irish Senior Cup by knocking out holders Cookstown in their own back yard, just four weeks after losing to their Tyrone rivals in the Irish Hockey League series.
Bann had to do it the hard way, coming from behind to beat the IHL Pool B leaders 2-1 at Coolnafranky.
But Saturday afternoon's quarter-final draw hasn't made their passage any easier, being drawn against Munster champions Cork Harlequins away from home.
Yes, Bann did romp to a 4-0 IHL success over the Quins a fortnight ago in the IHL and therefore must have a strong chance of making it into the last four.
But coach Mark Tumilty and his assistant Errol Lutton won't be taking anything for granted, for the Cork giants are a completely different ball game on their own patch.
For example, they have beaten Ulster teams Annadale (3-2) and Instonians (3-2) in all-Ireland competitions over the past fortnight at Harlequin Park and also held Leinster kingpins Glenanne 2-2.
Bann trailed Cookstown to a 14th minute Greg Allen goal on Saturday but when Ross McCandless converted a penalty corner with his trademark drag flick five minutes later, the comeback was on.
And teenager Hugh McShane put Bann ahead to give them a 2-1 interval lead which they held to the end of the game.
All in all, Ulster could end up with three teams in the semi-finals. One is guaranteed with the pairing of Belfast clubs Instonians and Civil Service, and Lisnagarvey are as determined as Bann to make it through, with home advantage possibly being enough to help them see off Leinster giants Pembroke.
Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals (date to be |confirmed): Railway Union v Glenane, Lisnagarvey v Pembroke, Cork Harlequins v Banbridge, Civil Service v Instonians.