** Ireland’s men in Cardiff. Picture: Irfon Bennett
The Irish men and women’s teams will hope to end this weekend with World Cup qualification tickets confirmed following their respective Thursday wins over Russia and France.
Both face knock-out fixtures on Saturday with the men facing Wales in Cardiff in a straight showdown for a ticket to India 2023. The women, meanwhile, have to win twice over the weekend, starting on Saturday against Belarus with victory setting up a Sunday date with either Wales or Scotland.
It means no margin for error but it is something men’s coach Mark Tumilty is keen to play down and focus on the performance at this stage.
“Qualifying not something we have talked too much about. The focus has always been putting in two performances this week for 60 minutes – we have done one of them and now it’s just 60 minutes again but to get to a World Cup would be fantastic!”
It will be a huge tussle against the home nation. Historically, Ireland have had the edge over Wales but the hosts are currently enjoying a golden period, rising seven places in the world rankings to an all-time high of 18th.
Indeed, they relegated Ireland from the top tier of European hockey in 2019 with a 4-0 result in Belgium and, in Rupert Shipperley and Jacob Draper, have Olympic experience to show the level of quality they now bring to the table.
Much has changed in the past two years with Tumilty bringing in several high quality new faces to the line-up and his new look side will aim to build on the composed win over Russia.
With tickets sold out, Ireland will be looking to spoil the party and secure a place at the World Cup for a third time.
For the women, they meet a Belarus side in their qualifier semi-final who are ranked nine places below Ireland but produced a stand-out 7-1 win over Russia in the first round.
The Green Army have won the last four meetings between the sides but that performance means there is little room for complacency. Indeed, Belarus won the second tier of the European Championships in August and are coming in hot from a busy summer leading up to this tournament.
With the two countries moving in different circles on the world stage this summer, Chloe Watkins says it will be a new challenge.
“It is difficult to predict how things will pan out and we haven’t seen a huge amount about how they play so far so it is difficult to plan. But if we play to our potential, we should have enough in us to get over the line. We reset after the France game and now we focus on Saturday and nothing else.”
That tie takes place at 11am (Irish time) with www.eurohockeytv.org the outlet streaming the fixture. The men’s tie follows on the same website from 2.30pm.
Saturday, October 23rd
World Cup qualifier fixtures
Men: Ireland v Wales, Cardiff, 2.30pm
Women: Ireland v Belarus, Pisa, 11am (Irish time)