The time for talking is over. After a hectic summer of action, the Irish men face their biggest challenge of 2009 as they endeavour to reach their first major tournament since the 1990 World Cup in Lahore.
They go into this week’s World Cup Qualifiers in Argentina with less than ideal preparation with David Hobbs a major name to miss out with 143 caps worth of experience unavailable as he lost his race against time to be fit for the tournament.
Joe Brennan, too, is another big absentee having become a stalwart of the Paul Revington regime and a near certain starter in the centre-backs had he not picked up a broken thumb in the Barcelona in EHL Round One.
From the Europeans' squad, Mikey Watt (below, left, in action against Chile) does return to action while Paul Gleghorne and David Ames (right) get first ranking tournament call-ups with Alan Giles the third change to the panel.
The withdrawal of Argentina from a test series also hampered the build-up, causing the management to scramble but two high quality friendlies against the European champions has helped alleviate any sense of ring-rust.
More so, two finals in consecutive tournaments has given rise to optimism in the panel with many of the squad used to winning more often than not in an Irish jersey.
The first target is to break into the top two of that group to qualify for the final on November 22. The group is split into two very distinct halves with three opponents – USA, Chile and Czech Republic – Ireland has never lost to, making the battle on paper a shoot-out with the Quilmes hosts and the Belgians.
Paul Revington’s side open up today against a USA side who feature Nate Coolidge who spent the early part of the 2008/09 season at Corinthian. As recent form goes, Ireland have won all six of their encounters with the Americans, the last of which came in the Olympic qualifier. The unavailable Mark Gleghorne netted four that day in an 8-0 rout but, as Revington stated in an interview with RTE last week, USA are very much an emerging force, as evidenced by their 3-2 win over Canada a fortnight ago.
Chile, on Sunday, are well known to the Irish with the Champions Challenge providing plenty of video analysis opportunities. A comfortable win in a training match this week, too, should add to a confident mood for that tie ahead of Tuesday’s crunch game.
Ireland will need to reverse a poor run of form which has seen six losses on the spin, most recently in July in Waterloo, to the Belgians. Since then, they have blown hot and cold with two thumpings of Japan interspersing losses to the Netherlands and England.
Match four sees Ireland face the Czech Republic, another side Ireland have a 100pc record against in four meetings. The drag-flicking of Tomasz Prochazka will be a threat, though, as will the lively Jakub Kyndl.
According to their team listing, however, it appears Dutchman Gino Schilders has parted company with the panel since their European campaign in August in Wrexham to be replaced by Michal Toms while there is still no place for Glenanne’s Filip Jaros whose injury problems persist.
The final group opponent could prove the toughest, though, if things pan out, Ireland could possibly end up facing the Argentinian hosts twice in a weekend.
bad blood from that day may well have subsided but the group fixture is always likely to be vital.
Saturday, November 14 (4.05pm Irish time) Ireland vs USA
Sunday, November 15 (2.05pm Irish time) Ireland vs Chile
Tuesday, November 17 (7.45pm Irish time) Ireland vs Belgium
Thursday, November 19 (7.45pm Irish time) Ireland vs Czech Republic
Saturday, November 21 (6.05pm Irish time) Ireland vs Argentina
Sunday, November 22 – Classification matches
Ireland squad (club, caps/goals)
David Harte (Pembroke Wanderers, 47/0); Iain Walker (YMCA, 20/0); Stephen Butler (Glenanne, 157/77); Graham Shaw (Glenanne, 145/6); John Jermyn (Cork C of I, 105/52); Eugene Magee (Banbridge, 97/21); Ronan Gormley (Pembroke Wanderers, 91/4); Timothy Cockram (Lisnagarvey, 89/19); Michael Watt (Dragons, 58/14); Tim Lewis (Pembroke Wanderers, 57/3); Geoff McCabe (Dragons, 56/0); John Jackson (Loughborough Uni, 36/0); Mitch Darling (KHC Leuven, 35/13); Conor Harte (Pembroke Wanderers, 36/0); Alan Sothern (Pembroke Wanderers, 31/10); Peter Caruth (Annadale, 15/5); David Ames (Cookstown, 7/1); Paul Gleghorne (Loughborough, 5/1)
The opposition at a glance:
Argentina: Played 11, 2 wins 2 draws 7 losses Goals for-against 15-33
Last meeting: 30 Oct 2008: 2-2 draw (Sothern, Jermyn) Venue: Dublin (test match)
Belgium: Played 43, 14 wins 8 draws 21 losses GF-A 95-78
Last meeting: 19 Jul 2009: 3-5 loss (Magee, Darling, Hobbs) Venue: Waterloo (Bel) (test match)
Chile Played 3, 2 wins1 draw GF-A 11-2
Last meeting: 6 Jul 2009 3-0 win (Jermyn 3) Venue: UCD (Champions Challenge II)
Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia Played 4, 4 wins GF-A 17-2
Last meeting: 26 Aug 07 10-0 (Jermyn 3, Gleghorne 2, Barbour 2, Magee, Maguire, Shaw) Venue: Manchester (European Nations Cup)
USA Played 6, 6 wins GF-A 29-4
Last meeting: 6 Feb 2008 8-0 win (Gleghorne 5, Magee, Barbour, Gormley) Venue: Auckland (Olympic Qualifier)
* To keep up to date with the tournament, follow the FIH's dedicated website here. ESPN Argentina will be televising the tournament though I have yet to find out if it will be available online. If anyone finds out more in the meantime, please let me know.