Andrew Meredith’s green machine, ranked 15th in the world, are pooled with Netherlands (third), Poland (20th) and England (fourth) for the bi-annual tournament, which begins in Boom, Belgium today.
Jackson, who takes over the armband from Ronan Gormley, is back in England with Reading this year having spent six seasons with Loughborough prior to a two-year stint in Belgium, and says the clash with the English will be pivotal as Ireland chase a top-four finish for the first time.
“We have a target for each game,” said the former Mossley man. “Holland — we’ve never beaten them at a major tournament. We have a good recent record of not losing to lower-ranked teams, so that’s the target for Poland. England is another kettle of fish, that’s the game for us. Those of us who have played in England — myself, Chris Cargo at Reading, Stu Loughrey with Bath — know exactly what we are up against, and we believe they are beatable.”
Ireland have had a topsy-turvy time since Paul Revington’s departure in the wake of the Olympic qualification near miss in Dublin in March 2012. A huge public fundraising drive yielded €60,000 to help get them to the Champions Challenge I in Argentina, duly repaid with a shock bronze medal finish.
Grit got them through a World League 2 campaign in New Delhi, before June’s huge disappointment in round three saw them miss out on World Cup qualification due to a narrow defeat to Spain, after losses to the Netherlands and Belgium.
They finished on a high by coming from four goals down to beat France 6-4 and finish seventh, but Ireland have a desire to put things right now.
A final World Cup place is on offer if the green machine go all the way — Jackson admits both their training programme and his chances of taking on the captaincy full-time are ‘hazy’ until they see if they can grab that chance, unlikely as it may seem. But getting out of their group and into the semi-finals is the initial aim.
“We’re targeting a top-four finish, which we’ve never achieved,” he says. “I think we can turn some heads; we’re probably coming in under the radar compared to a few years ago when we had beaten some big teams. Our results are more mixed this time around, but maybe that’s a good thing. I’d be very confident we can achieve our objective.”
Australian Meredith has ruffled a few feathers in Irish hockey during his tenure. He continues to base himself in Germany while asserting that he wants his ‘wild geese’ to return to play in Ireland, and wasn’t shy in publicly criticising some of his senior players and predecessor Revington after World League 3.
Jackson is aware of the outside perception of in-house turbulence, but says any disturbances owe more to players’ personal circumstances.
“A lot of players’ personal circumstances are changing very quickly. I’ve just got a job in Belgium, there’s 10 other guys who are doing law or accountancy exams, moving countries or getting engaged or married.
“We’re trying to get the balance right, but is it a happy camp? Absolutely. The preparation has been direct, accurate and geared towards what we needed to be focused on.”