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Record-breaking Magee keeps focus on qualification

 

By Graham Hamilton

Eugene Magee will become Ireland's most capped player before the end of the World Cup qualifying series taking place in Johannesburg - but the Banbridge striker reckons he has more important things to worry about.

Magee lines out with the Irish for the 255th time this afternoon in the final pool game against Olympic bronze medallists Germany (3pm), which leaves him one short of the record currently being held by Ronan Gormley.

And with a quarter-final slot on Wednesday already booked, and a further two play-off games to come, the popular Ulsterman could find himself on 258 before returning home.

But although Magee sees such a record as an honour, he feels that his priority is to ensure the Green Machine defy the odds and book a place in the 2018 World Cup finals - which would be the first time in 28 years.

It remains a hard road ahead for the Irish - they have a total of 10 Ulstermen in their ranks - and there is a danger that they may have peaked too early in the tournament after Belgium hit them for six and then needed a last-gasp goal to see off the lower ranked Egyptians in their last two pool games.

Tomorrow's opponents are already top of the pool after squeezing out Belgium 3-2 on Saturday, and are expected to have a few goals to spare against the Irish, which would leave Craig Fulton's lads in third place and facing the second placed team from the other pool in Wednesday's quarter-finals - the winners of tomorrow's New Zealand and Spain clash.

Spain edged out France 2-0 while the Black Sticks lost out to a late goal against pool favourites Australia on Saturday.

And so it is essentially Wednesday's game which is the most important of the tournament for the Irish - a win puts them into the last four and guarantees qualification for the world finals next year in India.

Defeat would send them into the fifth-eighth play-offs, from which only fifth earn an automatic place while probably sixth or seventh would eventually qualify when additional places become on offer after the five continental championships are decided.

But there's some good news from the Irish camp - their world No.1 keeper David Harte should be fit for what is the business end of the series following concussion sustained last Tuesday.

Harte took a full-blooded shot on his visor against Belgium and went on to concede heavily in a 6-2 defeat before sitting out the 2-1 win over Egypt two days later.

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