(Photo: © FIH / Gordon Morrison)

Ireland’s men men’s head coach Dave Passmore revealed his squad for the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifying tournament which will take place in Auckland, New Zealand next month. This tournament will provide Ireland with their final chance to earn a coveted spot in the Beijing Olympics later this year.

The commitment and training hours put in by the Irish squad over the last few months have mirrored that of full time professional athletes and has made the decision process all the more difficult for Coach Passmore in selecting his final nineteen “this has been the hardest squad I have selected in my nine years of international sport.” 

“The lads who have missed out can consider themselves very unlucky as the quality of individual performance is higher than at any stage of our preparation last year.  There were no players out of form and each has put in many hours of physical and technical preparation.  The margins for not being selected were very fine and often came down to ability at set pieces and versatility” commented Passmore.

Although Ireland can only utilise eighteen athletes throughout the course of the tournament they will travel with an extra player in case of injury which will allow the reserve to easily join the squad given that it will take about a week to get over jet lag and acclimatise. Passmore’s non travelling reserves will continue to train back home through to the start of the tournament to cover any injuries, a wise move when you consider Passmore lost three players just before the start of the Europeans last August.

Ireland’s campaign in Auckland runs from 2-10 February and the demands, intensity and matches, of which there are six, will be tough although one that the Irish team have fully prepared for, 'it is 17 years since the Ireland men last competed in an Olympic qualifier back in 1991 co-incidentally in Auckland also. This represents a fantastic opportunity for this squad to realise a lifetime ambition to qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing. The squad has worked incredibly hard over the past number of years in order to give themselves the best possible chance to gain that one qualification berth.”

Ireland’s pool is no easy feat and they will face three higher ranked countries including world number 7’s Argentina, whom they recently played twice in Chile drawing one all and losing in the final two one in an excellent display of hockey. Ireland also will face hosts and world number ten’s New Zealand, France who are ranked sixteenth and the lower ranked Trinidad & Tobago and USA who are ranked twenty fourth and twenty seventh respectively. Despite their lower rankings neither team will be a pushover as they proved when both drew against Canada in the Pan Am tournament which Canada went on to win resulting in their qualification for Beijing.

Ireland have already shown that they can compete with the best in the world, they drew one all with Spain and lost narrowly to the Dutch one nil in the Europeans last August. They will also have a point to prove to the French when their narrow loss in that same tournament resulted in Ireland’s relegation to the B division, however, with six matches in nine days keeping focussed and securing points will not be easy for any team in this group.

Ireland’s men will be leaving later this month in order to continue with their preparations “We are leaving early to provide further time for acclimatisation, team bonding and final technical and tactical preparation.  We will be splitting the journey by going to Australia where temperatures have recently been in the low 40s” commented Passmore.

Speaking with Manager Steven Hiles about the preparation he was very keen to express appreciation to all those who have supported the squad “It is very appropriate at this stage to acknowledge the fantastic support received from families, friends, and our employers who have all contributed enormously and also the ASPIRE sponsors ESB, Howard Eurocape and KPMG together with the SCNI and the Irish Sports Council who without them we would not have been able to prepare the squad to such a level.”

Passmore’s squad has an average age of 25 boasting Captain Paddy Brown as one of the most experienced on the field with 143 caps to his name. Four of Passmore’s forward line, Phelie Maguire, Mark Gleghorne, Eugene Magee and Michael Watt, who recently impressed in the Chile tour, are 23 years of age or younger, but they will also be accompanied up front by the older and more experienced attacker Andy Barbour.

Team Ireland:

Mark Ruddle (GK), Patrick Brown (C), Jason Black, Karl Burns, Ronan Gormley, Michael Watt, Stephen Butler, Mark Gleghorne, John Jermyn, Eugene Magee, Graham Shaw, David Hobbs, Andy Barbour, Mark Black, Phelie Maguire, Iain Lewers, Tim Lewis, David Harte (GK).

Travelling Reserve: Timothy Cockram.

Non Travelling Reserves: Mark Irwin, Geoff McCabe, Gareth Lennox.

Source: Irish Hockey Association