THE Road to Rio will begin in earnest for Ireland early in 2015, with the men starting their campaign in the USA and the women in Uruguay.
It seems very early to be talking about the Brazil Olympics, but world hockey's governing body has released the draws for the opening two rounds of the World League series, which offers places for what is described as the greatest show on earth.
The Irish men and women have avoided the first round tournaments, as both are now ranked 15 in the world and therefore are exempt, but will face lengthy journeys for the second round with the men in Lancaster in Pennsylvania and the women in Montevideo.
The good news is that there is every chance they can make it through to the semi-final round, which is a huge step closer to Olympic qualification, as both will be the top-ranked team in their tournaments.
The men, who missed out on the London Games by conceding a goal to Korea with just two seconds left on the clock in the Qualifying Final, now know two of the seven other teams in their tournament – Canada and hosts USA, while the remainder will come from the winners of the first round tournaments being staged in Portugal, Croatia, Mexico, and Jamaica in 2014 as well as the runners-up from Mexico.
If you go by current rankings, that means the teams competing are definitely Ireland (15), Canada (16) and the USA (29) and probably Russia (19), Austria (21), Chile (27), Trinidad and Tobago (31) and Mexico (35).
The top three from eight will go forward to the crucial semi-final tournament, and if Andrew Meredith's Green Machine can't achieve that, then there would be something seriously wrong.
The women know they will be in the same tournament as Azerbaijan and hosts Uruguay, while the remaining four teams will come from the winners of the first round tournaments in the Czech Republic and Zimbabwe and the runners-up from the tournaments in Jamaica and Mexico.
Going by current rankings, that means the teams competing are definitely Ireland (15), Azerbaijan (17) and Uruguay (30) and probably France (25), Mexico (28), Barbados (47) and Nigeria (51).
Just two will qualify for the third round from this seven-team tournament, although the best runner-up from the three second round tournaments will also go through.
Darren Smith's girls should qualify, but that game against France could be pivotal.