Both the Irish senior women and men got one of their preferred draw for the Olympic qualifiers as they both face battles with Canada in the next two months for a ticket to Tokyo 2020.
For the women, the draw — conducted via a dodgy feed from the FIH offices in Lausanne — was greeted with a staccato cheer as Sean Dancer’s world number eight side were aligned with the lowest ranked option from the pot.
Canada have been on the rise in recent years, moving up to 15th from outside the top 20, and were hugely impressive in their run to the Pan-American final this summer. Nonetheless, the other options — Korea, Belgium, and the USA — are all stalwarts of the top table, with full-time programmes and funding at their disposal.
“I would have gone for Canada or USA,” Shirley McCay said.
The others would have been a huge test but we are under no illusions. They are on the rise and have defied the odds in recent years.
Coach Dancer admitted Canada were one of the sides mentioned as a preference had they the choice but obviously tempered the mood, adding there is no gimme in this “cut-throat” format. The big advantage they have is the home seeding for their early November dates.
Hockey Ireland will announce the venue later this week with Dublin the confirmed city. UCD and Abbotstown have long been mooted as possible venues but the governing body have been looking into the logisitics of adapting Donnybrook Stadium, rolling out a drop-in pitch.
This plan was pioneered during the summer at the Harlequins’ Stoop for two of England’s Hockey Pro League games, allowing them to significantly increase their capacity.
Currently, UCD’s limit is 1,500 fans while any stands in Abbotstown — which has yet to see the turf laid — would only be temporary and costly. As such, with a 6,000 capacity, it is an attractive option for the team as they aim to build on last summer’s World Cup silver medal in London.
On the men’s side, they also drew the lowest ranked of their four potential opponents with Canada, the world number 10, set to host their head-to-head games in late October in West Vancouver.
In so doing, they avoided European silver medalists Spain, Great Britain and New Zealand and meet a side who they have been in five of their last six outings. On paper, Harte said it was likely to be the one they picked if given the option but with the side’s current form going in different trajectories — Ireland dropped to 13th in the world last week — this will be a huge tussle.
“I’m sure Canada will have a similar feeling of getting Ireland in the draw so it will certainly make for a serious battle,” he said.
“Any team that can to travel to Malaysia and win their FIH Hockey Series event shows the ability that they have. They have vastly experienced players and many playing overseas in Europe, too, so they are a pretty similar to ourselves.”
Harte missed the ill-fated European Championships last month through injury but he is hoping he can make his return to action with Dutch club SV Kampong on Sunday. The Euros spelled the end of coach Alexander Cox’s tenure in charge of the national team but it is expected his replacement will be named in the coming days.