Jonny Lynch, Luke Witherow, Callum Robson and Nick Page will make their ranking tournament debuts as Ireland’s men begin their EuroHockey Championship qualifiers in Calais on Wednesday with a first ever meeting with Lithuania (world ranked 61st).
A day later, they come up against hosts France (ranked 11th) in what looks to be the vital contest before finishing off the campaign on Saturday with another first encounter, this time against 40th ranked Turkey.
The tournament is their main event this summer following a wealth of test matches as Mark Tumilty sought to expand the experience and knowledge base of the panel for a tilt at Paris 2024 and beyond.
Lynch comes in for his first main event having missed last year’s Euros due to a Covid close contact ping. He was excellent as Under-21 captain in their run to Junior Championship II gold in the Czech Republic last month and so earns his place in the senior side.
Page will take up one of the midfield slots with Callum Robson up front and Luke Witherow hoping to bring some of his charges down the flanks which have been a feature this summer.
Otherwise, it features 12 of the side who played in last October’s World Cup qualifiers with Mark McNellis and Kevin O’Dea returning having played in 2021’s Euro B division.
This tournament will have an impact with Ireland’s placing at next summer’s different levels of European competition having a knock-on effect on where they will be placed in the pecking order for the subsequent Olympic qualifiers.
As such, the one ticket to the top tier of European Championships next summer for the winner from this four-team round-robin will almost certainly get Ireland into that mix.
Second and third place this week will contest the “B division” in 2023 which – on current rankings – is touch and go as to whether it will offer some tickets to the Olympic qualifiers. As such, there is a lot of importance on winning the tournament outright.
Facing France, though, is one of the hardest draws they could have picked up. The Green Machine have lost just once in the last 15 meetings dating back to 2015 but there has been a stark divergence in the two programs since the Covid pandemic.
With their place at the Olympics already confirmed, they have gone full-time. It allowed them to take up a short-notice entry to the FIH Pro League which they shone, picking up results against the Netherlands, India and Argentina.
“It will be a big ask with the prep they have had toward Paris 2024, especially in the Pro League this year,” said coach Mark Tumilty of the challenge they pose.
“But this group is in a good place to give them a good game. Turkey and Lithuania offer challenges as well and we need to be delivering good performances in those games as well.”
From Ireland’s perspective, being outside the Pro League, they have had to make do with games from sides further down the scale and have amassed wins over lower-ranked Chile, Austria, USA, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
They have done so while bedding in new faces with eight of this panel making their debut within the past 12 months as several retired following the Tokyo Olympic cycle and star men like David and Conor Harte and Shane O’Donoghue take a break from the international arena.
“We need to be challenged now against the nations above us,” Tumilty added. “We definitely learned a lot from games against Spain [in June] and now we want to meet more top nations to really challenge ourselves for learning and development.
“We are realistic about where we are with this group. It is a rebuild job but that’s not giving the players any excuses; we still go to Calais with the target of qualifying for the European A division and we are capable of doing that if we put in a performance.”
All matches will be streamed via www.eurohockeytv.org
Men’s EuroHockey Championship qualifiers, Calais (August 24th to 27th)
Jaime Carr (KHC Leuven)
Mark Ingram (Pembroke)
Tim Cross (Annadale)
Luke Madeley (Gantoise)
Kyle Marshall (Old Georgians)
Mark McNellis (Lisnagarvey)
Sam Hyland (YMCA)
Luke Witherow (Banbridge)
Daragh Walsh (Braxgata)
Jonny Lynch (Lisnagarvey)
Michael Robson (Annadale)
Sean Murray (Gantoise)
Nick Page (Old Georgians)
Jonny McKee (Banbridge)
Ben Walker (Braxgata)
Callum Robson (Annadale)
Jeremy Duncan (Monkstown)
Kevin O’Dea (UCD)
Team leader: Neil Irwin
Mananger: Ray Geddis
Coach: Mark Tumilty
Physios: Cameron Steele, Hugh Byrne
Physical trainer: Eoin Cunniffe
Wednesday, August 24th (all times Irish)
Ireland v Lithuania, 3.45pm
France v Turkey, 6pm
Thursday, August 25th
Turkey v Lithuania, 4.45pm
Ireland v France, 7pm Saturday, August 27th
Turkey v Ireland, 9am
France v Lithuania, 11.15am