(Photo: FIH)

The Hockey Olympic Qualifying pools were revealed earlier today and the Men’s Irish Hockey team’s rivalry with the French appears to be mimicking that of the Irish Rugby team. The men’s hockey team will face the French in Auckland, New Zealand in a bid to secure the last coveted Olympic spot available to them, Ireland’s men recently lost to the French at the EuroHockey Nations Championship which led to their relegation and so revenge would be sweet.

Also in their group the men will face world number 7’s Argentina; New Zealand (10); Trinidad & Tabago (23rd) and Cuba (31st), this is not a group men’s coach Dave Passmore in anyway expects to sail through “The group is a challenging one but not insurmountable. Obviously playing New Zealand on home soil presents a big challenge as will the style, speed and counter attack of an Argentinean team. We showed against England, Spain and Holland that we can compete with the top teams.”

“But we must be mindful that there are three difficult teams there and the pan American style is one we are not used too.” continued Passmore.

Ireland’s men will compete a good two months before their female counterparts, from the 2nd – 10th February 2008. “The timing of the event is good as we plan to have an intensive block of training through December & January, which could potentially include a four nations in Chile before Christmas where we would play both Argentina and Chile, this would give us good experience against the South American style of play. We also plan to engage in warm weather training in January as part of our preparation.” commented Passmore.

The Irish Women will have to wait for their bite at the Olympic cherry; their qualifier does not take place until April (26th April – 4th May) in Victoria, Canada.

The Women face Korea (9th), Italy (19th), Canada (23rd), Malaysia (25th) and Cuba (33rd). Knowing the challenge ahead head coach Muller can now plan the build up to April “Now that we know who our opponents will be and where the tournament will be held, we can finalise our training and competition plans in the build up to this tournament. “

“Korea is the obvious favourite in our pool being a top 10 world team and having recently played in the final of the Asia Cup.  The Koreans are always fast, fit, and skilful. In the last year we have played against both Canada and Italy and both of these teams are tricky opponents, who can beat you if you are not on top of your game.”

“We don’t know too much about Malaysia and Cuba so we will have to do some homework on them before the tournament.”  continued Muller

Muller realises that the task ahead is going to take hard work and determination, something he is not afraid of, “Our aim is to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, but I will be stressing that we need to achieve individual training and performance milestones to put ourselves into contention to achieve our goal.”