Ireland’s men can draw inspiration from women’s World Cup heroics
Stephen Findlater, The Hook
Ireland’s men are hoping they can draw inspiration from their female counterpart’s incredible summer silver-medal winning heroics as they make their first appearance at a Hockey World Cup since 1990.
They get their campaign under way on Friday, November 30th in Bhubaneswar in India, facing the massive challenge of the current world number one ranked side and reigning champions Australia.
While the Green Machine have never beaten the Kookaburras in a competitive match, the women’s journey shows anything is possible and defender Jonny Bell says it gives them plenty of motivation.
“What they achieved in the summer was incredible and has just added to this really special phase in the history of Irish hockey,” Bell said ahead of the tournament.
“Both the men and women are now competing in the top ten; we have defied the odds, beating teams higher ranked than us in the past and we will have to do that again if we want to emulate what the women did. We can take inspiration from that.”
Game one poses a daunting task against Australia. The Kookaburras are the only side Ireland have never beaten in a capped international match, their best result a 1-0 loss in Sydney back in 1979.
It gives a measure of the challenge in front of them but Ireland did scratch New Zealand off the winless list last summer with a 1-0 success and ran up their biggest win over Germany (4-2) within the last 18 months so they have been breaking new ground.
Next on the card for Alexander Cox’s tenth-ranked side are group matches against outsiders China (December 4th). The world number 17 side provide a real unknown quantity and any recent video clips of them in action are in short supply following their decision to withdraw from the Asian Games in August this year.
Ireland have won their last four meeting with the Chinese, most notably the last time out with a 6-0 success in Antwerp in the Olympic qualifying process.
The group closes with a potentially vital date with England (December 7th), a team Ireland have beaten twice in the past month in the warm-up games in Valencia.
The English have since been further rocked by the absence of key striker Sam Ward due to concussion. While the omens are good, the English should still go into the tie as clear favourites with their side being the best-financed of any in the world game due to their national lottery support.
They do feature three former Irish internationals – Ian Sloan, David Ames and Mark Gleghorne – who have been part of their full-time programme for a number of years and Barry Middleton is set to take part in his fourth World Cup, showing their experience.
The top side in the group will advance direct to the quarter-finals while second and third go into the crossover phase. From this series, the quarter-final line-up will be completed.
The tournament, though, represents another peak in the Green Machine's excellent recent past. This World Cup qualification follows a European Championship bronze medal in 2015 and, a year later, they became the first Irish team in over a century to play in the Olympic Games in Rio.
In 2017, the World Cup ticket was achieved with a fifth place finish at the World League semi-finals, beating New Zealand for the very first time in the decisive match.
It hands Bell and his team mates an incredible stage to make their mark. The hosting Kalinga stadium in Odisha in eastern India is one of the world’s iconic hockey venues and is set to welcome fervent home crowds.
“India is a hockey-mad nation and I am sure there will be that buzz and energy.” Bell continued. “It has been a lifetime goal to play there. I have been a couple of times in Malaysia and the conditions could be similar, maybe a little more humid than India.
“I have no doubt we will go there and show the qualities we have in the squad.”
Odisha World Cup Fixtures
(All times listed are local)
11.30 Ireland vs Australia
13:30 Ireland vs China
13:30 Ireland vs England
Bronze Medal Match