Ireland’s men begin their 2018 World Cup qualification journey with a new-look panel charged with winning World League 2 in Belfast over the coming week.
Eight players are making their ranking tournament debuts for Craig Fulton’s charges, who are without 10 of the 19 players who travelled to the Rio Olympics last summer.
The forward line will be the greenest, with Jamie Wright, Jeremy Duncan, Matthew Nelson and Jonny McKee all newcomers, while Sean Murray and Neal Glassey offer new options in midfield with goalkeeper Jamie Carr and defender Lee Cole the other fresh faces.
Matthew Bell, who won European bronze with Ireland last summer but missed out on the Olympics, has been the EY Hockey League’s stand-out player this term and should play a prominent role here.
There’s still lots of experience in the squad too, as Ireland’s most capped players Eugene Magee and Ronan Gormley take part along with all-time top goalscorer John Jermyn and two-time World Goalkeeper of the Year, David Harte.
Austria appear the most dangerous side in Ireland’s four-team pool, but the Green Machine - now 10th in the world - are favourites for a tournament where a top three placing will get them through to World League 3 in Johannesburg this summer, where World Cup places will be on offer.
France are the dangermen in the other pool. Eleven of their panel picked up a silver medal at the 2013 Junior World Cup.
Ireland coach Fulton said: “It is a mix of exciting youth and senior experience which has been the case for the last four months in our build up to playing World League 2 in Belfast.
“It’s been a while since Ireland hosted a men’s FIH tournament so we’re looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd. The Stormont venue is looking good and the pitch is playing fast.
Domestically, Cork Harlequins need just a point from their final three games to confirm a spot in the women’s EY Hockey League play-offs, but they might have to work hard to get it this weekend away to table-toppers UCD.
In Munster, a number of loose ends could be tied up in the ladies Division 1 by Sunday night, with the majority of teams playing twice this weekend. Basement side Limerick could be potential kingmakers while they also fight against relegation.
They face the top two, Cork C of I and UCC, inside 24 hours and any favourable result for Limerick could prove terminal for their opponents’ title hopes, with a point separating them at the summit with two games to go.
Limerick could be relegated, though, if they fail to pick up a point and Clonakilty and Waterford manage to eke out results, albeit against top four opponents.
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