Sponsorless, under-funded and waiting on others to decide their Olympic fate — yet the Irish men’s hockey team are one of the country’s most successful Irish national sides in any sport in 2015.
Ireland medalled for the first time at a European championships last week, defeating England in London to claim bronze at a tournament containing four of the world’s top five teams.
It should be the springboard for greater things, but instead the Green Machine are in limbo until October, when they’ll find out if Rio is on the agenda for 2016.
That’s thanks to a bizarre qualification system put in place in 2012, ironically coming after Ireland’s men missed out on London after Korea beat them with seven seconds remaining in a one-shot qualifier. The new World League setup gives second chances, but is so complex that even hockey aficionados — let alone outsiders — struggle to understand or explain it.
Ireland beat higher-ranked Pakistan and Malaysia en route to a fifth-place finish at World League 3 in June. But with only the top three at that tournament and the continental champions guaranteed a Rio berth, it leaves Ireland’s fate uncertain until these competitions are completed, requiring either South Africa or Australia to prevail in their respective areas.
New Zealand’s Shea McAleese and German star Moritz Fuerste are among those who have been critical of the system, and it’s a far from ideal scenario for this overachieving Ireland side, who could move from 14th to 12th in the world rankings as a result of their 2015 exploits. They should be offering potential sponsors an attractive package as Ireland’s first Olympians in a team sport since 1948, but instead must train away amid uncertainty on all fronts.
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