Olympic qualification the carrot for Ireland

IRELAND’S men and women tip off their European championships campaigns this weekend both hoping to cause a major surprise and nick an Olympic place in the process in Moenchengladbach, Germany.

Pre-tournament form suggests the men are more likely to threaten following a summer in which the Celtic Cup, the Champions Challenge II and, perhaps most notably, the INSEP Five Nations Cup were annexed.

Three nations and 2012 hosts England will qualify for London from this competition, making a semi-final berth imperative and Ireland begin with a huge test against them.

Former Irish player Iain Lewers makes his debut for England, his adopted nation, in a major tournament having controversially sat out three years of international hockey.

The sight of two brothers facing each other has been scuppered, though. Mark Gleghorne, another Ulsterman, followed Lewers but has been injured long term. In those three years out, sibling Paul has risen to be an Irish mainstay and will line out in defence for Paul Revington’s side.

For Ireland’s women, world number three side Germany are first up. This initial tie has been cited as the one coach Gene Muller would prefer to cause a surprise in. A shock eighth place finish in the Champions Trophy earlier this summer further suggests they are in transition but have not finished outside the top three in nine prior Europeans.

Irish match schedule: Tomorrow: Ireland (women) vs Germany, 2.50pm. Sunday: Ireland (men) vs England, 9am; Ireland (women) vs Belgium, 7pm.

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