10th March 2017: Stormont (Belfast) awaits as the Irish men line out in their first tournament on home turf since the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in Belfield. 

The host side go into the competition as number 10 in the world off the back of their Olympic performances and they need a top three finish from the eight-team competition to progress to Round Three.

Their initial group phase starts with a tie against Ukraine on Saturday, a side they beat 12-0 in that 2012 tournament. Six players return from the Ukraine line-up while seven of the Irish players are still in place – David and Conor Harte, Ronan Gormley, Eugene Magee, John Jermyn, Chris Cargo and Paul Gleghorne.

Italy meet Austria in the other Group A game on Saturday hoping to not be too under-cooked. The Italians missed out on a warm-up tie against Poland due to a loss of baggage on their flights into Belfast, including their sticks.

Ireland meet the Austrians on Sunday. They look to be the other strong side in the group with top class performers like Oranje Rood’s playmaker Benjamin Stanzl and Harvestehuder THC’s immense goalscorer Michael Korper the ones to watch.

Wales are the lowest ranked but probably the side in the best form. They won World League Round 1 with a win over Scotland in Glasgow and beat France twice last week to win a series in Paris.

Club side Cardiff & Met provide eight of the squad and had a good run at the EHL ROUND1 in Banbridge. Goalkeeper David Kettle is a fine performer and speaking to Stephen Findlater he said that it all combines for a positive mood in their camp.

“We are still a young side but we’ve got great potential and perhaps more importantly, we have the aspiration to meet that potential,” he said.

“We don’t pay too much attention to the rankings but we do believe we can give anyone a run on our day. Over the last few years, we’ve regularly beaten teams ranked higher than us but with the aspiration and potential we have within the squad, it’s exactly what we expect ourselves to be doing. If we keep doing the right things then the rankings will take care of themselves.”

Scotland are usually well known to Ireland but make six changes to their line-up from Round 1. Crucially, star striker Kenny Bain decided in January to take a step back from their panel for personal reasons. Chris Grassick is also out with a long-term injury while Callum Duke has been forced to withdraw due to an ankle injury.

Coach Derek Forsyth told Stephen Findlater that it will be a tough tournament for his side: “We know the competition in Belfast will be one of the strongest out of all the round two tournaments.

“There are a number of teams in the tournament who could qualify for the next round. We feel we have as good a chance as any of the others but know we will need to be at our best to finish in the top two.”

Like Wales, his squad have had a slightly curtailed preparation schedule and lost out on one of their games in Spain due to surprise frosty spell.

“We’ve done the most with the time available to us. In hindsight, the Barcelona trip could have been a little later due to losing a game to poor weather. The France games went well, it was a tough week and we learned a lot. We’re reasonably pleased with where we are in our preparation.”

The Scots face France in the opening game in Stormont while Wales meet a physically strong Poland who will always make for a battle. They feature five of the all-conquering WKS Grunwald Poznan club side with Pawel Bratkowski the man to make them tick.

More details on the event can be found here:

http://www.fih.ch/events/hockey-world-league/2017-men-hockey-world-league-round-2-belfast/

Hockey World League Round 2 (all at Stormont, Belfast)
Saturday: France v Scotland, 10.30am; Poland v Wales, 12.45pm; Ireland v Ukraine, 3pm; Austria v Italy, 5.15pm
Sunday: Poland v France, 10.30am; Scotland v Wales, 12.45pm; Austria v Ireland, 3pm; Ukraine v Italy, 5.15pm

Source Material: Stephen Findlater, The Hook 

Photograph: Ireland v France (WSP, Frank Uijlenbroek (c)