Ireland’s hockey teams make a steady start in Olympic qualifying tournament

Men begin their campaign with a 5-1 win over Ukraine while the women’s side earn a creditable scoreless draw against top seeds Belgium

Both the Irish men’s and women’s hockey teams had positive starts to their Olympic qualifying tournaments in Valencia over the weekend.

The men opened their pool campaign with a 5-1 win over Ukraine while the women produced an impressive defensive display to earn a scoreless draw against top seeds Belgium.

A top three finish in the eight-team tournaments is required by both sides if they are to book a place in Paris this summer, the initial target a top two slot in their pools so that they reach the semi-finals.

Currently at four in the world list, 10 places above Ireland, the Belgians are the top-ranked team in the women’s tournament and showed that pedigree when they piled on the pressure in the opening stages on Saturday, winning nine penalty corners in the first quarter alone.


But player of the match Ayeisha McFerran proved unbeatable, the Irish goalkeeper repeatedly thwarting Belgium with a string of saves. Her defence showed no little resolve either, not least Lena Neill (formerly Tice) who cleared a shot off the line in the final quarter to keep the game scoreless.

Ireland offered little threat themselves, but will expect to do so when they take on Ukraine, the tournament’s lowest ranked side, on Monday morning (11.0am Irish time).

If they can take three points from that game, then Tuesday’s meeting with Korea (5.15) – 3-0 victors over Ukraine on Saturday – will, most likely, determine which of the two reaches the semi-finals.

The men face a very similar challenge in their pool which also includes Belgium, the number two side in the world, and outsiders Ukraine. And it is also completed by an Asian side, in this case Japan, who, if the seeding plays out, will be Ireland’s main rivals for that top two pool placing.

Two goals in four second-quarter minutes from Ben Johnson and Lee Cole sent Ireland on their way to victory over Ukraine on Sunday evening, although an immediate response from Paziuk Viacheslav threatened to make it a nervy enough encounter. But a glut of final quarter scores from Ireland made it a comfortable enough outing, Cole doubling his tally, Jeremy Duncan marking his 100th cap with a goal, before Darragh Walsh made it 5-1.

Ireland’s men next play Belgium (Monday, 7.15), before taking on Japan on Wednesday (7.15).

Ireland (women): A McFerran, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan, H McLoughlin, E Neill, N Carroll, E Curran, C Beggs, K McKee, D Duke, B Harper. Subs: S McAuley, M Carey, R Upton, N Carey, S Torrans, C Watkins.

Ireland (men): D Harte, L Madeley, T Cross, J McKee, N Matthew, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, P McKibben, J Duncan, M Robson, N Page. Subs: B Johnson, D Walsh, K Marshall, J Lynch, L Cole, S Hyland.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times