Ireland leave for the second round of the World League in New Delhi this Friday but will stop over in Malaysia first, for a three-test series of games against the Malaysians.
And it is good news for the players, as the FIH have just sanctioned the games as full internationals.
It is all part of Ireland’s preparations for the World League, which begins on the 18 February. Their first game against Malaysia will be on Sunday at 11am (BST), followed by games on Monday and then wrapping up on Wednesday, both with 11am (BST) starts.
Then it is off to New Delhi, India, for the main competition where they open their account against Bangladesh, who are ranked in 40th place, 25 places below the Irish.
Next up is Fiji, and the Fijians are ranked in 70th spot, so barring any slip-ups, Irish coach Andrew Meredith will be hoping that he has two wins under his belt before facing hosts India.
India have just fallen outside the World’s Top 10 and will be Ireland’s main threat in the competition.
India were once considered the kings of field hockey, winning eight Olympic gold medals, but that dominance has since dwindled although the support they have is mind blowing.
Most of the Irish players will not have experienced, or played in front of the massive support that follows India. Tens of thousands of baying fans will pack the stadium to see their beloved Indian team play.
Even though India is not the international team it was, there is a resurgence of interest and at a recent tournament in India, it pulled in a viewership of 31.36 million – and they call that dwindling interest!
Ireland’s penultimate game is against an unknown Oman side, who are ranked 36th in the world. Hopefully by then, the Irish will know exactly what they have to do to reach the third Round of the World League, before they play China in their final game.
The Chinese are a possible banana skin and whilst ranked three places below Ireland, they are a fast and skilful side and are liable to cause many an upset.
Ulster has a strong representation in the squad with nine players named in the squad of 18. Eighteen-year-old Banbridge star, Peter Brown, is expected to make his senior debut in either of Ireland’s opening two games.
The more experienced Ulster players such as Paul Gleghorne, John Jackson, Chris Cargo, Peter Caruth, Eugene Maguire, Geoff McCabe, Bruce McCandless and Michael Watt are all expected to be used in the games against India and China.
Irish coach, Andrew Meredith said: “Our goal is pretty clear, with only the top two countries progressing to the following round of Semi-Finals in the summer. The World League 2, presents not only a challenge to the playing group, in as far as acclimatising to unique environmental and cultural factors but it represents an opportunity to experience playing in a country, where hockey has an incredibly large following, while playing in a stadium that has a capacity of 20,000 spectators.”
Irish squad: David Fitzgerald (Monkstown); David Harte (SV Kampong, Holland); Paul Gleghorne (Instonians); Ronan Gormley (Krefeld HC, Germany); Conor Harte (SCHC, Holland); John Jackson (Braxgata, Belgium); Stuart Loughrey (Team Bath Buccaneers); Bruce McCandless (Banbridge); Chris Cargo (Reading, England); Eugene Magee (Krefeld HC, Germany); Geoff McCabe (Santander, Spain); Phelie Maguire (THC Hurley); Peter Brown (Banbridge); Peter Caruth (Braxgata, Belgium); Mitch Darling (Three Rock Rovers); Shane O’Donoghue (UCD); Alan Sothern (Pembroke Wanderers); Michael Watt (SCHC, Holland).