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Ireland's early start in FIH Series finals suits them just fine


By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men are in a hurry to see off Scotland in this morning's opening game in the FIH Series finals in France.

And it's not only because Alexander Cox's lads are after three valuable points to help them in their bid to claim top place in their pool which sends them straight through to the semi-finals.

But the sooner the game is over, the quicker they can get warmed down, freshened up and get behind a screen to watch the Irish girls in their semi-final clash against the Czech Republic in Banbridge.

The girls can guarantee a place in the final Tokyo Olympics eliminator with a win, and that's what the boys want to do too as they set out in their equivalent tournament which runs from this morning through to next Sunday.

The game against the Scots starts in Le Touquet at 10.15am and finishes around 11.30am while the girls' game doesn't start until 1.15pm, giving just enough time for a quick turnaround.

Nine Ulster players are in Cox's 18-strong panel, but only Neal Glassey didn't make it to the Rio Olympics - and that's why he's determined to play his part in helping the Green Machine reach Tokyo.

The men have prepared well for the tournament, and taken in a practice game against Chile, from the other pool, to get acclimatised to the speed of the Le Touquet pitch.

And although there is a lack of gym equipment available, the players have maintained their fitness thanks to strength and conditioning coach Lisa Costley.

Lisa tweeted a video of the players improvising at their hotel, doing press-ups, sit-ups, stretches and legwork around the backyard furniture which ran up 1,000 views inside the first few hours.

Three pool wins are imperative for the Green Machine to set up a crunch semi-final clash against probably either France or Korea from the other pool, two teams that have been doing well over the past year.

Head coach Cox has a fine blend of youth and experience, for example Ulster duo Eugene Magee is on 280 caps and John Jackson on 243 whereas Dubliners Luke Madeley and Ben Walker are on just 15 and 17 respectively.

As the highest ranked team, the Irish are expected to progress to the final, but Lisnagarvey defender Jonathan Bell has stressed that it's the first step to the Olympics and they know what is at risk and will be careful not to slip on a banana skin.

Today's game against Scotland and tomorrow's against Egypt are expected to be tougher than Tuesday's against Singapore.

Today: Ireland v Scotland (10.15am); Egypt v Singapore (12.30pm); Korea v Chile (2.45pm); France v Ukraine (5pm)

Tomorrow: Scotland v Singapore (10.15am); Ireland v Egypt (12.30pm); Ukraine v Chile (2.45pm); France v Korea (5pm)

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