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Irish look likely to net a home Olympic play-off

 

Home run: Irish coach Sean Dancer
Home run: Irish coach Sean Dancer

By John Flack

Ireland's women have retained their world ranking of eighth despite losing to Korea in the FIH Series final at Banbridge last month.

Their place on the global list will almost certainly guarantee them a home Olympic qualifier later this year when an aggregate win in the two-legged mini-series would see them book their tickets to Tokyo.

Their opponents will be determined after the next rankings are announced following the European Championship in Antwerp next month.

At the moment, it's looking like either China, the United States, Chile or a possible rematch with Korea, with Dublin the likely venue for the double-header in late October or early November.

Ireland face a tough task at the Europeans in Belgium with higher-ranked Germany and England along with Belarus providing the opposition in the group stages.

Before that, new head coach Sean Dancer, who has taken over from interim boss Gareth Grundie, will have five games to gear up for the trip to Antwerp with two additional internationals against Italy now confirmed.

The Italians, who were third at their FIH Series event in Valencia last week, will play Ireland on July 21 and 23 at Stormont, with three games against Scotland taking place at the same venue the previous week.

Meanwhile, EY Irish Hockey League champions Pegasus will open their title defence with an away game against Railway Union on November 9.

Belfast Harlequins - under new coach Phil Mills, who has joined from Ards - also face a trip to Dublin on the opening day as they prepare to face Old Alexandra, with the two Ulster sides going head-to-head at Deramore on December 14.

Ards, who suffered relegation from the top flight last season, begin their promotion bid against derby rivals Queen's in Belfast on October 13 when IHL2 hits off.

Joining the two Ulster sides in Pool 2 are Greenfields, UCC and Monkstown, while Lurgan, who won the domestic title for the third time in a row last season, are grouped with Corinthian, Cork C of I, NUIG and Trinity in Pool 1.

Meanwhile, Ulster's Under-16 girls shared their series with Wales after a 0-0 draw at Jordanstown yesterday.

The Under-18s went down 1-0 to their Welsh counterparts and so lost the series after the teams went into the game with a win apiece.

Results: Friday: Ulster U18s 0 Wales 1. Saturday: Ulster U18s 1 (J McCarlie) Wales 0. Yesterday: Ulster 0 Wales 1.

Friday: Ulster U16s 2 (K Moore, J Nesbitt) Wales 1. Saturday: Ulster U16s 2 (G Scott, R Cox) Wales. Yesterday: Ulster U16s 0 Wales 0.

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