Irish hockey thrilled to be back on the Olympic stage
Following an absence of 108 years, Ireland’s men’s field hockey team will make a long-awaited return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016, where they will line up in a 12-team competition featuring six nations that have won gold before.
Held in Antwerp (BEL) and Buenos Aires (ARG) in June and July 2015, the FIH Hockey World League semi-finals decided who would be joining hosts Brazil at the 12-team Rio 2016 field hockey tournament.
2004 Olympic champions Australia took the honours in Antwerp, defeating Belgium in the final, with both sides making sure of their places in Rio along with Great Britain. As the next highest-ranked teams, India and Ireland had to wait on the results of subsequent continental competitions to see if they had done enough to qualify.
In the Argentinian capital, meanwhile, it was reigning two-time champions Germany who came out on top, beating the hosts in the final, while London 2012 runners-up the Netherlands also booked a slot in Brazil, with Canada, Spain and New Zealand all having to wait to confirm their places.
In the case of the Irish, who beat the higher-ranked Malaysia and Pakistan at the World League semis, their wait lasted more than three months, with Australia’s Oceania Cup win in October eventually guaranteeing them a trip to Rio.
The men in green’s previous Olympic appearance came 108 years ago, at London 1908, when they won silver after an 8-1 defeat to Great Britain in the final.
Drawn in Group B in Rio, along with Argentina, Canada, Germany, India and the Netherlands, Ireland face a tough test if they are to finish in the top four and advance to the quarter-finals. Their opening game will come against the Indians on 6 August.
“Everybody dreams of making history. Playing in the Olympics is a dream for every one of us,” said Ireland midfielder Eugene Magee.
“1908 was the last time any hockey team from Ireland was in the Olympic Games, and for us now to have the opportunity to go and represent ourselves in the Rio Olympics in 2016 is something that we all cannot wait to do so,” added goalkeeper David Harte.
With the exception of Pakistan, all the previous Olympic champions will be in action at what will be the 23 Olympic field hockey tournament: Great Britain (winners in 1908, 1920 and 1988), India (gold medallists six times in a row between 1928 and 1956, and again in 1964 and 1980), Germany (1972, 1992, 2008, 2012), New Zealand (1976), Netherlands (1996 and 2000) and Australia (2004).
Big guns ready and waiting
Germany and Netherlands are the two dominant forces on the European scene and know pretty much everything there is to know about each other, having faced off regularly in big games. Their most recent major showdown was the 2015 continental final, in which the Oranje cruised to a 6-1 win.
Led by Florian Fuchs, the man who captained them to glory at London 2012, reigning Olympic champions Germany are eyeing a third consecutive gold in Rio. Meanwhile, Great Britain, who have never been too far away from the final since winning gold in 1988, and 2008 runners-up Spain will also be out to make their mark. For their part, Belgium are a rising force on the global stage.
The winners of nine Olympic medals in total (a gold, three silvers and five bronzes, two of which came at the last two competitions), Australia are always in contention when it comes to major tournaments. Dominant at the Commonwealth Games, with five wins on the trot since 1998, they took the 2014 World Cup title and the 2014/15 World League crown.
The best team in Asia and silver medallists at the last two Commonwealth Games, India will look to revive memories of their glorious past, while New Zealand’s Black Sticks will also be a force to be reckoned with.
Situated in the Deodoro Zone, the Olympic Hockey Centre will host the Rio 2016 tournament. Originally built for the 2007 Pan American Games, it has been refurbished for the Olympics and now boasts new, international-standard pitches and dressing rooms, permanent stands around the main pitch and offices. Forming part of the city’s Olympic Training Centre, it will be used after the Games to promote and develop the sport in Brazil.