Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

In-form Irish facing test of their mettle

Irish coach Paul Revington isn't expecting to add the INSEP Five Nations Trophy to the World Champions Challenge II and the Celtic Cup which his players have already won this summer.

But the South African, who is transforming the fortunes of men's hockey here, believes that facing world champions Australia, sixth ranked Korea, 11th ranked Argentina and hosts France this week will go a long way in preparing his squad for next month's crucial Eurohockey Nations Cup.

Revington raised quite a few eyebrows when he sent what was mostly a fringe squad to Cardiff for the Celtic Cup, but his decision was vindicated when they returned home with the trophy after comfortable wins over France, Scotland and Wales.

A few more eyebrows were raised when he named his squad for the Champions Challenge II series in Lille, with seven established players not included for a variety of reasons.

And once again his choice was spot on, with the players landing the trophy after an unbeaten run which included games against Russia twice, Scotland, the USA and France twice.

The Five Nations tournament in Paris, which starts this evening and runs through to Saturday, is a considerable step up in class ... but it didn't stop Revington raising yet more eyebrows with his squad choice.

This time he had no hesitation in making five changes to the Champions Challenge squad, recalling three of the established stars, naming 11 of the 18 from Ulster - the most from the province for years - and calling up schoolboy star Ian Sloan.

Revington has already explained that it's all about building up a bigger squad of players who can step in and out of the team when necessary - in the past Ireland has relied on a core of 18 players, and if there were injuries, unavailibility or loss of form, there was every chance the squad would struggle in major tournaments.

But now there is around 30 players who are all capable of holding down places - the Celtic Cup and Champions Challenge successes underlined the progress the so-called fringe players have made.

This gives him the opportunity to rest key players before major tournaments ... like the forthcoming Europeans.

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