Ireland begin Olympic quest in Valencia

Darren Smith will hope to sign off with a flourish as Ireland’s women begin their Olympic qualification campaign in Valencia today.

Ireland begin Olympic quest in Valencia

The New Zealander, who will quit his post to return to his homeland regardless of whether Ireland earn a place at Rio 2016, is aiming to guide the Green Army to a top six placing in the 10-team World League 3 tournament.

Ireland won World League 2 on home soil with six wins from six in March but the size of their task at this higher level was illustrated by seven games in North America last month, where they shared a three-game series with Canada and were beaten three times by the USA. But they coped well with soaring temperatures for Friday’s 2-0 win over Chile in their final warm-up, and will be hopeful of attaining their first goal — to emerge from a pool containing today’s opponents South Africa, Germany, Uruguay, and the USA.

Ireland first need to avoid the wooden spoon in their group to make the quarter- finals. Victory there will assure them an Olympic berth, but they will also get a second shot via the 5th-8th place play-offs, needing to finish at least sixth.

Smith made just one change to his settled squad of 18 with Cork Harlequins’ Yvonne O’Byrne adding an extra defensive option at the expense of her more attack-minded fellow Munster woman, Naomi Carroll of Catholic Institute.

Meanwhile, Ireland men’s coach Craig Fulton has named his 18 for the men’s WL3 Olympic qualifier in Antwerp.

There are few surprises although veteran Lisnagarvey hitman Timmy Cockram, who recently returned to the panel, misses out alongside another stalwart of the failed 2012 campaign, Stu Loughrey.

Fulton makes just one change to the panel that comfortably won WL2 in San Diego in February; Bruce McCandless misses out while Kyle Good comes in. The latter plays his hockey with Belgium’s Dragons and this tournament is on his home ground.

Ireland took on the Belgians in a pair of friendlies over the weekend where another Dragons man, Shane O’Donoghue, scored all the Green Machine’s goals in 4-2 and 3-2 defeats, an encouraging pair of results against the highest-ranked side in their pool.

Ireland begin their campaign against Great Britain on June 23, and also take on China, Malaysia and the hosts.

  • See digest for squads

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