In the summer of 2018, the Irish women’s team demanded the world’s attention. Heading into the tournament ranked 16th, they were given no hope. Even after topping their pool, they were still given no chance of progressing any further. But shock shootout wins over India and Spain saw them reach the World Cup final.
With this incredible underdog story still ringing in their ears, it is now the men’s turn to try and shock the world. And while the giants of the game will rightly be confident, every smaller team will play that little bit harder having seen the Irish women demonstrate what belief and hard work can do.
The men's World Cup got under way in India yesterday and Ireland will make their bow against Australia tomorrow, their first appearance in the competition in 28 years.
— Irish Hockey (@irishhockey) July 22, 2017
How Ireland reached the finals:
Ireland have only qualified for the World Cup twice before, finishing 12th out of 12 teams in both 1978 and 1990. But in recent years, Ireland have been gaining a reputation as a difficult team to defeat. This is reflected in their current position in the top ten world rankings, which has come about after qualifying for the 2016 Olympics and securing an impressive third-place finish at the 2016 EuroHockey Championships.
Their place was secured during a tense battle with New Zealand at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals. Despite injuries decimating the Irish squad, leaving them with just two players on the bench, the match, in which the winner would secure the fifth and final automatic qualification spot, resulted. in a tense 1-0 win for the Irish, their first ever win over New Zealand.
FT: Ireland win 1-0. Superb performance from @IreMenHockey to secure their place at the 2018 World Cup!!!
— Irish Hockey (@irishhockey) July 22, 2017
World Cup format - how it works:
The 2018 edition of the World Cup has expanded to 16 teams for the first time, meaning that this edition of the competition will be the first Men’s World Cup to use a new ‘Crossover’ format.
The competition remains simple for the winners and last-placed teams. The winners of each of the four pools will go through to the knockout rounds automatically, beginning with the Quarter-finals. The last-placed teams will go home.
The new element is for teams finishing second and third. Four crossover matches will see these teams playoff to secure a place in the Quarter-finals. The pools are paired for these crossover matches, meaning that the Pool A runner-up will play Pool B’s third-placed team and visa versa. The same will be true for the teams in Pools C and D.
This new format means that just four teams will have been eliminated after the Pool Stage is completed, and many smaller teams will fancy their chances in a single match to secure a shock position in the knockout rounds.
With experience in defence in the form of David and Conor Harte, Ireland will be tough opposition for any team. 10 of the 2016 Olympic squad have been named, bringing a balance of youth and experience to the 20-man initial squad.
In addition, 14 squad members are playing in top leagues across Europe. With such a well balanced squad, Ireland have the ability, energy and experience to make a significant impact on the World Cup.
While optimism will be high going into the tournament, Ireland will not have it easy. Drawn in Pool B with defending champions Australia makes automatic qualification unlikely, but there is still great call for optimism. Also in Ireland’s pool are England and China.
Should Ireland reach the Crossover, they could potentially face fellow top ten teams Argentina, Spain or New Zealand.
Since 2014, this generation of Argentinian hockey has become an imposing force in both the Men’s and Women’s competitions, with both teams finishing third at their respective 2014 World Cups. In addition, the men also cemented their position at the summit of the game by winning gold at the 2016 Olympics.
Argentina will have high hopes for the 2019 World Cup and could be the biggest barrier to Ireland progressing. They've made a pretty good start to the tournament too with a thrilling 4-3 over Spain earlier today.
Olympic Champion Argentina Won their first match in hockey world cup .. against Spain .. by 4-3 .. Spain Lost the golden goal scoring chance in the last seconds.. it was the fantastic match .. pic.twitter.com/cnIHhJP23G
— ZAHID GHAFFAR (@zahidghaffar) November 29, 2018
Hockey’s ‘nearly men’, Spain are a nation that reach the knockout rounds on a regular basis and still miss out on the big prize. Despite two finals (1971 and 1994) and third place in 2006, their most common position is fifth, a position they have claimed four times.
While they are unlikely to be easy to defeat, they are not one of the favourites. In this sense, Spain and Ireland are very similar and a Crossover match could be very close. It wasn't the best start for them today, but given the nature of their defeat, they are likely to still have a say in the outcome of the tournament.
Despite being regular participants, competing in nine previous World Cups, New Zealand have failed to improve on a seventh place finish.
Having failed to secure an automatic spot at the World Cup, Ireland would be confident that a fully fit squad could again defeat New Zealand should their paths cross in the tournament proper.
"The Blacksticks" got their campaign off to a good start today with a 2-1 win over France.
The final countdown
Despite an underwhelming performance at the 6 Nations Invitational Tournament in November, Ireland will be feeling confident going into the World Cup.
Whatever happens at the tournament, the supplier of goalposts for both the Men’s and Women’s World Cups in 2018 are anticipating a fantastic competition. Director of Sports Sales & Marketing at Harrod Sport, Kevin Utton, commented “Irish hockey has already had an incredible 2018 and all eyes will be on the men to see if they can emulate the incredible achievements of the women this summer. We can’t wait to see some world-class competition in front of India’s ever lively hockey fans in Odisha.”
The Men’s team as they begin their campaign against the reigning champions Australia tomorrow, November 30th.
- November 30th - Australia vs Ireland
- December 4th -Ireland vs China
- December 7th - Ireland vs England
- December 10th - Pool A/Pool B Crossover
- December 12th-13th - Quarterfinals
- December 15th - Semifinals
- December 16th - Final and 3rd place Playoff