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Olympic dream is now becoming a reality for Ireland


Packing their bags: John Jackson has hailed Ireland’s qualification for the Rio Olympics

Packing their bags: John Jackson has hailed Ireland’s qualification for the Rio Olympics

Packing their bags: John Jackson has hailed Ireland’s qualification for the Rio Olympics

It has been over 100 years in coming but an Irish hockey team will finally play on an Olympic stage.

World champions Australia won the Oceania Championships in the early hours of yesterday morning and, as they had already qualified for Rio, their place instead goes to the next team in line ... which is Ireland following their marvellous fifth place finish in the World League 3 back in July.

There was jubilation in the Irish camp when news came through that the Kookaburras had beaten New Zealand 3-1 in yesterday's final and now Irish coach Craig Fulton and his squad can make preparations for the trip to Rio next August.

They will join Brazil, India, Germany, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, Argentina, Netherlands, Australia and one remaining qualifier.

There was particular joy from Ireland's senior players who have been trying hard over the past eight years to qualify for the Olympic stage.

And indeed who could forget the tears that were shed four years ago when Korea scored with just eight seconds left in the London Olympics qualifying final to deny the Green Machine their place.

But the appointment of Fulton as coach has been the catalyst for success and he has added a steely determination to the squad and also built up a wider base to put Ireland in the position of being able to consistently compete with the world's best.

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"I'm unbelievably proud of us having qualified for the Olympics," said Ulsterman John Jackson, who captained the team during that ill-fated 2012 Olympic qualifying final and who broke down in tears after Korea scored that last gasp winner to deny the chance of going to London.

And it has been a long wait for the Irish since the World League series in Antwerp in July to see if their Rio ticket would be finally stamped.

They knew that their fifth place finish should be enough to claim a coveted place but it still needed a few results to go their way, with Australia's Oceania title win finally securing the crucial confirmation.

"Thanks for everyone's support," said Jackson. "We've made history in becoming the first Irish team in over a century to reach the Olympic stage. But that's not the end story. There will be more history to follow."

Coach Fulton added: "It probably hasn't sunk in yet but we're over the moon.

"It's testament to what the guys have achieved this year on and off the field," referring to not only that World League placing but also their first European bronze medal success over the past four months.

"Commiserations to New Zealand who miss out and congratulations to Australia."

Fulton is no stranger to the Olympic stage, having featured for his native South Africa during his playing career.

Now he is looking forward to coaching a team on sport's biggest stage.

For the record, the Green Machine will be the first Irish team in any sport to represent Ireland at an Olympics in 48 years.

More than half of Ireland's squad are made up of Ulstermen and a further three or four should also be going to Rio, with Great Britain.

Meanwhile, Instonians made it three wins from three in the Ulster Premier League after beating one of their main rivals, Kilkeel, 2-1 at Shaw's Bridge.

Two William Robinson goals did the trick but if it had been a boxing match, then the Mournemen would have won on points.

Mark Stevenson scored Kilkeel's goal just a minute after Robinson's first but they couldn't add another despite bossing the second half.

Civil Service stayed in contention with Philip and Gareth Grundie scoring three of their goals in a 4-3 success while South Antrim's Chris Henry got two in his side's 5-3 win over North Down.

Campbellians set the pace in the Senior League after winning 3-2 at Portrush, while contenders Cliftonville and Bangor shared eight goals.

And Ballynahinch's second successive win, this time at Armagh, lifts them into midtable.

Ulster Premier League: Instonians 2 (W Robinson 2) Kilkeel 1 (M Stevenson), Civil Service 4 (P Grundie 2, G Grundie, R Anderson) Belfast Harlequins 3 (N Anderson, C Lemon, J Hutchinson), South Antrim 5 (C Henry 2, A Glass, P Maguire, M Getty) North Down 3 (S Shepherd 2, P Wilson)

Senior One: Portrush 2 Campbellians 3, Cliftonville 4 (D Hurley 2, M McKimm 2) Bangor 4 (R Tate, R Burgess, J Crimble, D Edwards), Armagh 1 Ballynahinch 2.

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