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Irish girls given home advantage for Rio bid

By Graham Hamilton

The Irish women’s dream of reaching the 2016 Rio Olympics has been given a boost following the world governing body’s decision for the World Hockey League 2 tournament to be staged in Dublin.

The World League acts as an Olympic Qualifier and, with home advantage in the second phase, it’s hoped that Darren Smith’s girls can build on their recent silver medal finish in the Champions Challenge to reach the semi-final series from which they can then make it through to Rio.

The Dublin series will run from March 14 through St Patrick’s Day and conclude on March 22 with the other qualifying tournaments being staged in Montevideo in Uruguay and Ranchi in India.

The men once again won’t have home comforts, and instead will be heading to Lancaster in the USA. But Craig Fulton’s lads still have a good chance of making the third phase to keep alive qualifying hopes.

The men’s tournament will start a fortnight earlier on February 28 and will run through to March 8, with the other qualifying tournaments being staged in Cape Town in South Africa and Singapore.

At this stage we don’t know the quality of opposition the Irish will face but it will include lower teams qualifying from the first phase and also a few teams who received byes as they are ranked between 12th and 19th in the world.

Bearing in mind both Irish teams are currently ranked 15th in the world, they should be among the favourites to finish in the top two out of eight to go through to the crucial semi-final round.

The two 10-team semi-finals will be staged around May and June — the women’s in Belgium and Spain and the men’s in Belgium and Argentina.

The 12 Olympic places are taken up by the five continental champions plus the hosts, with the remainder coming from the top six in the World League semi-finals who have not already qualified.

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