Ireland U21 men return to top tier in Terrassa

Ireland’s men will compete in the top division of the EuroHockey U21 Championship for just the second time in the past 20 years when they line out this week in Terrassa.

They earned promotion back to this level with Championship II gold in Plzeń Litice and they have a quartet of players still in situ from that event in 2022.

Mark Collins, Rex Dunlop, James Clark and Louis Rowe were all key figures who will be back for a second junior Euro campaign.

This time, Rowe is joined by his twin brother Charlie with the latter captaining the side; he missed out two year ago during a summer in which he made his senior Irish debut and has since amassed 22 caps.

They are from an incredibly sporty family; their father played tennis for Ireland while their mother was an equestrian international. Louis was among the top scorers in the Irish EY Hockey League which Banbridge won.

Ben Walker, Thomas Dobson and brothers Matthew and Adam McKee also hail from the County Down club, bringing the club representation to six.

Dunlop is another with strong sporting roots – his father Angus played over 100 times for the Irish cricket team. He is among a quarter of Three Rock Rovers players, linking up with goalkeeper Ben Whelan, Ben Ryder and Ben Pasley who, last summer captained the Irish Under-18s.

Pasley’s sister Ella will line out with the Irish Under-21 women in Terrassa, too.

Ireland built confidence in early June with a four-team tournament win over Wales and Scotland, entering two squads who ended first and second overall.

They are coached by former South Africa international Ashlin Freddy who was part of his home nation’s Olympic coaching setup in Tokyo in 2021 and at the 2023 World Cup in India.

The junior green machine’s best performance at this level came in Dublin in 1978 when they won silver. More recently, it has been quiet on this stage as they did not compete in this category between 2004 and 2012 and only returned to the top stage in 2017 when they finished seventh.

From that panel, the likes of Peter McKibbin, Kyle Marshall and Jaime Carr have ascended to this summer’s Olympic panel.

Best performance: Silver medal (1978)

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