Due to the quirks of an overly-elaborate qualification system that even the sport’s experts struggle to comprehend, Ireland finished their international year with uncertainty over a potential Rio berth.
The Green Machine stormed to a superb fifth place finish at the World League 3 in June and followed it up with a maiden bronze medal at August’s European championships.
Neither were enough to secure Olympic qualification but nor was it ruled out, leaving Craig Fulton’s side in limbo as they continue to train for a tournament they may not go to.
Their dreams could become reality this weekend though, should Australia win the four-team Oceania Cup.
“Australia has already booked their place in Rio via World League where they claimed first spot in Antwerp,” explained Irish Hockey’s Alex Sherwood.
“As such, if they win the Oceania Cup, they won’t be utilising that route to Olympic qualification and the next team in line, Ireland, would qualify for the 2016 Olympics.”
With Fiji and Samoa mere bumps along the road – New Zealand put 37 unanswered goals past the Samoans on a farcical first day – the final will be a shootout between world number ones Australia and New Zealand, ranked seven.
The difficulty for Ireland is that New Zealand haven’t qualified for Rio either, having been stunned by Canada in the World League 3 quarter-finals. This is their last-chance saloon and Australia have opted to rest some of their front-line starts, although rumours they would field a severely weakened side proved unfounded.
A Kookaburras victory would see the Irish men become the first Irish team of any sporting hue to qualify for an Olympics since 1948, while it’s been more than a century since an Irish hockey team made the Games.
“There is nothing more we can do to qualify for Rio 2016; we’re relying on Australia to beat New Zealand in the Oceania Cup final,” said Fulton. “If they can’t beat them then all credit to New Zealand on the day for their victory. We will be watching in the early hours of Sunday morning hoping the result goes our way.”
Meanwhile, Bandon Grammar will fly the flag for Munster in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Schoolboys Championships.
Having drawn 3-3 with High School on day one, high-quality wins over Ulster’s Sullivan Upper (4-1) and Cookstown High (5-2) sent the west Cork boys into the last four as they bid to repeat their lone success of 2005.
Ashton and Newtown crashed out after heavy losses to Leinster powerhouses Wesley and St Andrew’s respectively, but both ended positively with wins, Ashton beating Regent 1-0 while Newtown ousted RBAI 3-2.