Dublin’s National Sports Campus is the venue from Sunday, July 23rd to Saturday, July 29th for the men’s EuroHockey Championship II, offering a route to next January’s Olympic qualifiers for two sides.
It features eight nations playing two pools with the Irish hosts meeting Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Portugal in Pool A while Scotland, Italy, Switzerland and Türkiye compete in Pool B.
The sides all qualified for the event by virtue of their positions in last summer’s four EuroHockey qualifier tournaments, finishing in either second or third place in those respective events.
The top two from each group will advance to the semi-finals and subsequent final and bronze medal matches while the bottom two go into Pool C which will determine the positions between fifth and eighth place.
High on the mind of most will be staking a claim for one of the two potential Olympic qualifier spots. Those will go to the two highest finishers other than Scotland. This is because, in an Olympic context, Scotland falls under the auspices of Great Britain. As such, should Scotland reach the final, the third place finisher will get the ticket to the qualifiers.
Below, you can read a full team-by-team preview!
The Dublin event ushers in a month of continental international hockey on the continental stage. It starts on Saturday and runs until July 29th with men’s Championship III starting a day later in Skierniewice in Poland.
On the women’s side, action begins on Monday in Zagreb for Championship III and then Prague is the venue for Championship II from July 30th to August 5th.
** All four events will be live-streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org. The stream from Dublin will cost €19.99 for an event pass or €8.99 per game. **
Ireland (World ranked 13)
Hosts Ireland are the top ranked side coming into the competition and will be looking to make that advantage count as they pursue a potential Olympic qualifier spot.
Two-time FIH World Goalkeeper of the Year David Harte returned to the side in June and played against Wales in his first international appearance for 1,355 days, dating back to October 2019 and he adds to a high class goalkeeping options. Jaime Carr has recently signed with Belgian champions Gantoise.
Shane O’Donoghue took a work-break for the European qualifiers last summer but returned in some style in December for the FIH Nations Cup where he scored five times, bringing his goalscoring tally to 113 for Ireland.
Ben Johnson is the one man to make his major tournament debut; he missed out last summer due to a knee injury sustained against Austria but the Waterford man gets his chance this time.
Form of late has been strong, winning four of their last five fixtures: two against Wales, two against Austria, both of whom are playing in the top division this summer.
Ukraine (WR: 31)
Ukraine will be looking to break into the top four for the first time, following a number of close run things in the past decade. They have been competing at this level for the past six editions of the competition, finishing fifth on three occasions and sixth on three occasions.
They do have to make a late change with Oleksandr Solomianyi sustaining a broken collarbone in test matches in Prague. He will be replaced in the playing staff by Oleksandr Diachenko who was initially scheduled to manage the side.
Ukraine have been unable to play any capped matches in 2023 to date but they did play an uncapped fixture against group rivals Czech Republic which ended in a 5-4 defeat.
And there has been some success for their players this season; 14 of their wider panel played with national champions OKS SHVSM Vinnitsa. Dmytro Luppa won the Polish league with KS Pomorzanin Torun; Bohdan Kovalenko was instrumental in Post SV winning in Austria and Vitalii Kalinchuk won the Croatian title with HAHK Mladost.
Czech Republic (WR: 32)
A new look Czech Republic side will look to build their new identity following a number of injuries and retirements. Leading the new generation is Adam Uhlíř who also captained his club TJ Plzen Litice to a breakthrough league success this season.
Lukáš Plochý is the star man with 39 goals in 67 internationals – more than the rest of the current squad put together – while Štěpán Klaban will look to put what he has learned playing in the Netherlands with Klein Zwitserland into action here. He is among seven Under-21 players included.
In the tournament build-up, the Czechs did lose three times to the USA in uncapped games and once to Poland but did finish on a high in an uncapped match, 5-4 against Ukraine.
Coach Miroslav Ludvík says the side is shaping up well despite slightly low-key results: “If I compare the current team with the one we had two years back in Lousada [in Championship III], it has definitely moved forward.
“It is more hockey-like, more advanced, but we still need to work on efficiency in the shooting circle. That is something that has weighed on our hockey for the last few years.
“It’s perhaps just a shame that we don’t have more competition in the team due to several injuries. Even so, the team is very interesting and we can look forward to what this young generation will bring us not only now, but also in the future.”
Portugal (WR: 42)
Portugal are competing in Championship II for just the third time having finished in seventh place in Lisbon in 2007 and eighth in 2017 in Glasgow.
Their side features a quartet of players who shone in the EuroHockey Club Challenge I in Zelina, winning gold, while there is a smattering of experience from around the continent. David Franco and Rodrigo Castro aided Gladbacher’s promotion to the top division Germany.
Other players ply their trade in England, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. Among them, Canterbury’s Aidan Fourie is set to make his debut as is CF Benfica’s Cantiago Ferreira who will become the third 15-year-old ever to line out for Portugal.
In 2021, they ended up fourth in Championship III, missing out on the bronze at the hands of Türkiye in a shoot-out.
Scotland (WR: 20)
Scotland men build up to the tournament with confidence after recently enjoying a successful three-match uncapped series against Wales in Cardiff. The Scots won the final game of the series 4-1, after 0-0 and 3-3 draws. The matches saw a number of young players emerge into the squad, with five – Alistair Douglas, AJ Lochrin, Fraser Moran, Tommy Austin and James Drummond – set to earn their first caps in Dublin.
The side has a coaching setup who know the Irish scene well. Head Coach Jonny Caren was the assistant coach during the golden period for the Green Machine between 2013 and 2018 and he is assisted by ex-Irish international David Hobbs and John Bessell who also worked with Ireland before.
“The greater squad made my first selection for a major tournament a very difficult task,” Caren said of the event. “Everyone has been working hard, and pushing each other week-by-week, to bring the best out of this group.
“With five athletes receiving their first caps at the Europeans, this brings a fresh approach to the team that is also perfectly balanced with the experience of players such as Alan Forsyth, Lee Morton, Duncan Riddell and Tommy Alexander. The games against Wales showed that as a new group, when we connect well, we are hard to beat and exciting going forward.”
The tournament will be a poignant one for the Scottish Hockey family as the first event for the team since the passing of Alan’s father Derek, a long-time coach of the side and then being the High Performance Director. Alan is the team’s star turn with 90 goals in 206 matches between Scotland and GB fixtures.
Italy (WR: 26)
Italy are looking to make the breakthrough and finish in the top four of the competition following for the first time since this second tier competition was introduced.
In Championship II, they finished in fifth place in 2005, 2019 and 2021 but they are coming into the competition in good form. Recently, they defeated Switzerland twice as well as USA and pushed top division side Austria close in a 3-1 defeat, too.
The side is coached by Gilles van Hesteren, another who knows Dublin reasonably well having coached both Genesis and Dublin University as well as the Leinster Under-21 women. He also coached Irish player Conor Empey at SCHC in the Netherlands.
His panel hails from a diverse range of clubs with eight of the panel based in Italy, six in Belgium, three in Spain and one in the Netherlands. The most experienced of them is Thomas Keenan who plays with San Sebastian in Spain and he will captain the side; he has 29 goals in his 70 caps.
Another to look out for is Francois Sior who will play with Oree in the Belgian league next season. Manuel Mondo has scored three times in his last four international outings.
Switzerland (WR: 36)
Switzerland will be looking to building on a number of positive performances in recent times to inspire their outdoor credentials
Of late, Switzerland has been shining in the short-forms of the game. In December, they reached the bronze medal match in the European indoors in Hamburg while they were in fourth in a Hockey5s showcase event in Lausanne. An Under-21 indoor silver in January added to the mood.
Eight of the side picked up Euro Hockey League experience this season with Rotweiss Wettingen with Jonas Winkler’s dazzling skills producing one of the goals of the KO16 last October.
Boris Stomps has been the key man in recent preparation games, scoring three times in games this summer. He plays in the Dutch Hoofdklasse, moving this summer from Klein Zwitserland to HGC. He is joined in the panel by his younger brother Lars who was a key figure with their Under-21 indoor side who took silver in January in Nymburk.
Another Under-21 stars Loris Grandchamp and Yannick Hug are among a quartet who play in the German leagues. Warm-up games have been a mixed bag with two losses to Italy as well as a loss and a draw against the Czechs.
Türkiye (WR: 39)
Türkiye will play in the EuroHockey Championship II for the very first time having debuted in men’s competitions back in 2013. Since then, they have slowly risen through the rankings in Championship III, starting off seventh before a best ever finish in 2021 in Lousada of third.
That included a win over Malta, a draw with Belarus and a shoot-out victory over Portugal. Their issue since then, however, is a lack of international fixtures in comparison to their rivals.
They have yet to play a capped match in 2023 while they only had three games in 2022, all of them in Calais in the EuroHockey qualifiers where they suffered heavy defeats to Ireland and France either side of a win over Lithuania.
Nonetheless, club champions Nizip Zeugma provide eight players to their wider panel following an exceptional season in which they also won promotion from EuroHockey Club Challenge II. Omer Karakus is key for them and he captains his country while Müslüm Elagöz is a crucial striker for them.