The two nations have numerous hockey links; many of the current South African men’s side have plied their trade with clubs here while two of the last three Ireland men’s coaches — including the man who piloted the journey to Rio, Craig Fulton — hail from the Rainbow nation.
However, Fulton and his Irish side must be glad that Ireland’s Olympic council haven’t followed their South African equivalent, SASCOC, in refusing to allow their men’s and women’s teams to travel to Rio, despite both meeting the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) qualifying criteria.
Both sides earned their ticket to Brazil by winning the African championships, but SASCOC wanted them to qualify via the World League. They say their decision to not send the sides to competeis in line with their policy of “producing world-class athletes who will compete at the highest levels”.
SASCOC and the South African Hockey Association (SAHA) signed an agreement earlier this year stating qualification could only be achieved via the World League, but SAHA say they signed it as “a fait accompli” and believe the proposed criteria was unachievable.
SAHA says the decision will “cripple the sport” and affect their world ranking; but a petition signed by 15,000 supporters asking for the hockey teams’ reinstatement has left SASCOC unmoved. It’s the first time in 20 years South Africa will miss the Games.
By contrast, Ireland’s heroics at the WL3 and European championships have helped them move to an all-time high of 12th in the world rankings, and they’re in Barcelona next week for three games against 11th-ranked Spain, with Maurice Elliott (Beerschot), Gareth Watkins (Monkstown) and James Lorimer (Lisnagarvey) recalled to the panel. Injury to number one goalkeeper David Harte means David Fitzgerald (Monkstown) and Jamie Carr (Three Rock Rovers) have chances to impress.
First though, the players must negotiate round two of the Irish Senior Cup. Banbridge’s visit to Railway Union is the sole clash between EY Hockey League rivals on the men’s side. In terms of Munster interest, Cork C of I host Kilkeel — conquerors of Cork Harlequins — while Monkstown visit UCC.
In the women’s tournament, Cork Harlequins have a tough ask away to a Hermes side they lost to in the EYHL last weekend, while UCC are also in Dublin against Loreto.
M Bell (Banbridge), J Bell (Lisnagarvey), J Bruton (Monkstown), T Cockram (Lisnagarvey), S Cole (Monkstown), J Carr (GK, Three Rock Rovers), C Cargo (Racing), L Chadwick (Three Rock Rovers), D Fitzgerald (GK, Monkstown), M Elliott (Beerschot), K Good (Monkstown), R Gormley (Krefeld), N Glassey (Lisnagarvey), C Harte (Racing), J Jackson (Reading), J Lorimer (Lisnagarvey), M Robson (Annadale), A Sothern (Pembroke), K Shimmins (Pembroke), G Watkins (Monkstown).
See Digest for Fixtures