Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ireland men aim to negate Japan speed to keep Olympic hockey dream alive

“Tidy, fast and play on the counter a lot.” That was the assessment of captain Sean Murray on the Japan threat which Ireland men will aim to negate when they play their final Olympic qualifier group game on Wednesday evening. 

Ireland men play Japan to decide their semi-final fate. With a better goal difference, the Green Machine only need a draw to qualify, like their women counterparts.

The two teams last met a decade ago when Ireland won 1-0 and Murray knows what is likely to unfold. “Japan will be a different style of fight but it’s a must win,” he added. The teams last met a decade ago when Ireland won 1-0.

A 4-2 defeat against Belgium did hold plenty of plus points for Mark Tumilty’s side. 

“This is the closest we have come to beating them from way back since we drew with them back in 2015,” said David Harte, Ireland’s goalkeeper.

“Some of these guys have never played out a top three side and that was an incredible experience to take away from it.”

VALENCIA – FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2024 Valencia 08 Ireland v Belgium (A) Picture: Daragh Walsh COPYRIGHT WORLDSPORTPICS FRANK UIJLENBROEK

Against Ukraine and Belgium, Ireland had pockets of play where they took their foot off the pedal with either needless cards or a goal before the hooter. At the third time of asking, the Green Machine will aim to make amends against Samurai Japan.

“It’s a lack of concentration,” added Harte. “The boys are working hard and sometimes communication drops a little bit, guys are in wrong positions and you get punished at that level. We will take a look at that before our crunch game.”

Victory will not only take them within one game of a Paris berth, but it will also put them on the path back to the world’s top 10.

Harte added: “The top 15 teams can all compete against each other and the top 10 sides, and that’s what we want to do. Our aim is to get back into the top 10 once more.”

They will attempt to do so with an array of squad members plying their trade in Europe, five with clubs in Belgium, including Murray at Gantoise.

“Across Europe when guys go away, they learn little details that maybe we don’t do at home, different styles and different presses,” the Irish captain added. “It helps that in the Irish squad, a lot of guys like Lee Cole and Jeremy Duncan have learned new things and have brought them back into the squad.”

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