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Irish dreaming of following GB team to Rio Olympics

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland men are hoping to take a leaf out of Great Britain's book and follow them all the way to the Rio Olympics. GB, with three Ulstermen in their line-up, booked their place in today's World League 3 semi-finals in Antwerp against world champions Australia.

But their place in Rio is now assured as fellow semi-finalists India have already qualified for the Olympics through their continental championships, and so Bobby Crutchley's lads go through as one of the three automatics.

With Australia likely to win their continental championship later this year, a fifth team from the Antwerp series will get their Rio tickets ... and Ireland want it badly.

What they have to do is beat World No. 9 Pakistan today (12pm) and follow it up with a win over either Malaysia or France on Sunday to make sure.

To date, the Green Machine have run the leading nations close, but it's imperative they win their last two games.

Many of the players, including Ulster's most capped player Eugene Magee, believes the tremendous support being given to the Irish team could be the key factor in helping them win.

The bulk of the 5,000 fans in the Brasschaat grandstands have been getting behind the Irish, apart from when the two teams met in the final Pool B game on Sunday.

And the reason is understandable. Not only do the Irish have a considerable backing from their own fans who have travelled across, but the Belgian support has notably been on the Irish side because there has been a close association between the two countries in recent years.

More than a dozen Irish players - including Magee - have featured in the Belgian league, and also at the tournament venue.

With regards to GB, the Ulster trio aren't just content at reaching Rio - they want to come with medals from Antwerp.

"Getting to Rio was our priority," admits Iain Lewers, the former Annadale defender.

"But now we must push on and get a medal in the World League 3 ... preferably gold."

And former Instonians striker Mark Gleghorne and former Cookstown midfielder David Ames are in agreement, but they also hope Ireland make it to Rio.

"India beating Malaysia on Wednesday guaranteed us our place in Rio with two games to spare, but it's not beyond Ireland to qualify too," said Gleghorne, whose brother Paul has been outstanding in the Irish defence.

"They must beat Pakistan today and also Sunday's game, and if the remaining continental championships go as expected, fifth or sixth place should be enough."

Today: Semi-finals: Australia v Great Britain (5pm); Belgium v India (7.30pm). 5th-8th play-offs: Ireland v Pakistan (12pm); Malaysia v France (2.30pm)

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