Belfast Telegraph

Ireland taste derby fever

By Graham Hamilton

Irish hockey fans are being warned to get to the Bellevue Stadium early for the men's opening game of the Eurohockey Nations Cup on Sunday... otherwise they'll get caught up in the chaos of the other big game in Manchester that day.

Ireland's crucial game against current European champions Spain is virtually a sell-out at the 4,000 all-seater stadium, with hardly a ticket available for the allocated Green Zone, a designated area of the stadium for fans of the Irish men's and women's teams.

But it's the other all-ticket game at the nearby City of Manchester Stadium, between derby rivals City and United in the Barclays Premier League, which is likely to cause more problems.

City's 50,000 all-seater ground is barely a mile from the hockey venue, and the 1.30pm kick-off is within half an hour of the hit-off between the Irish men and Spain (2pm).

That means that fans travelling out of Manchester to Bellevue that day will encounter throngs making their way to the Mancs derby.

Irish coach Dave Passmore is anxious that fans get behind his team as they bid to establish themselves among Europe's elite, following their promotion from Division B in Rome two years ago. It won't be easy, though, against the current Euro champions on Sunday nor against the world's No.3 Holland on Tuesday (11am), and so much could ride on their final pool game against France on Wednesday (1pm).

The other pool comprises Germany, England, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

Passmore has put his players through a lengthy build-up but just when things seem to be going well, everything turned belly-up.

Experienced defender Jason Black was a late withdrawal from the panel, which means a complete rethink at both defending and attacking penalty corners. Replacement Tim Lewis broke a finger and also had to pull out, while striker Phelie Maguire is still trying to shrug off a dislocated finger.

The reshuffle in defence means that Passmore will be depending even more on Ulster centre backs Patrick Brown, who will captain the team, and Iain Lewers.

Altogether there are eight Ulstermen on the squad. The Irish are ranked to finish seventh of the eight, which would spell relegation, and so they really need to win at least one pool game.

Assuming the Irish will feature in the 5th/8th play-offs, they will then have two classification games, earmarked for Friday and Sunday against the bottom two from the other pool, to guarantee a minimum top six place and survival in the top flight. Whatever happens, the Irish are guaranteed a place in one of the three Olympic Qualifiers scheduled for next February or March.

But if they were to shock Spain, then there's an outside chance of them finishing in the top three which would automatically warrant a place in the Beijing Olympics.

IRELAND: Patrick Brown, Mark Irwin, Timothy Cockram, Andrew Barbour, Geoff McCabe, Eugene Magee, Iain Lewers, Mark Gleghorne (Ulster), Mark Ruddle, Karl Burns, John Jermyn, David Hobbs, Mark Black, David Harte (Munster), Stephen Butler, Graham Shaw, Ronan Gormley, Phelie Maguire (Leinster).

EUROHOCKEY NATIONS CUP PROGRAMME (BELLEVUE, MANCHESTER): Ireland v Spain (Sunday, 2pm): Ireland v Holland (Tuesday, 11am); Ireland v France (Wednesday, 1pm). Classification games, Friday and Sunday.


From Belfast Telegraph