Hockey World Cup: Ireland look to add to incredible story

Conor Harte in action at Rio 2016
Ireland qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time in 2016

Ireland defender Jonny Bell hopes the team can add to the 'incredible story' of Irish hockey at the 2018 World Cup.

Ireland face Pool B opponents Australia, England and China at this year's tournament in India.

The Irish women's team had a fairytale run to the World Cup final in summer and Bell wants to add to their success.

"The girls have just added to the incredible story of Irish hockey over the last five or six years," said the men's skipper.

"With both teams now in the top 10 in the world, playing at Olympic games and the girls doing so well in the World Cup it's a great time to be involved in Irish hockey."

The opening match against defending champions and world number one side Australia will be Ireland's toughest fixture of the pool stages in Bhubaneswar.

Ireland, who are 10th in the world, will also face seventh-ranked England and minnows China, who are 17th in the rankings going into the tournament.

Ireland head coach Alexander Cox
Alexander Cox was appointed as the new Ireland men's head coach in July

The start of a new chapter

The departure of coach Craig Fulton in May and the arrival of his successor Alexander Cox was hardly ideal preparation for the side but Bell has been encouraged by how the squad has responded to the new management team.

"I suppose everybody has upped their game. I think with the new coach coming in people are out to impress and it is a very competitive environment," added Bell.

"He's fitted in seamlessly to the group. He's really encouraged us to bring out our strengths and he's trying to build on the platform and the basis that we already have as a team.

"Craig's chapter as coach is a very special chapter in the history of Irish hockey but I'm absolutely convinced that this could be even more special over the next phase."

Ireland's Hockey World Cup pool fixtures
AustraliaFriday, 30 November11:30 GMT
ChinaTuesday, 4 December13:30 GMT
EnglandFriday, 7 December13:30 GMT

In preparation for the World Cup, former Netherlands assistant coach Cox took charge of the team in a Four Nations invitational tournament in Spain, with Ireland finishing third following a penalty shootout victory against England.

"The main thing for me is that I want to have a good defensive structure first of all. I like to work on keeping a clean sheet and from there go on to work on the attack," said Cox.

"So I like the counter attack game, of course you need to work on things on the ball as well but when you see my teams play you tend to see good defending teams with a good counter attack.

"That's my first aim on the field and then second of all I need leadership within the team. The players need to take ownership of their game and of the team itself."

Quarter-final target

Ireland have finished 12th in both of their previous World Cup appearances but this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament since 1990 and the team has been set an ambitious target by their new coach.

The four pool winners will automatically qualify for the quarter-finals with the second and third-placed teams advancing to the crossover round that provides a further four last-eight spots.

"That is our aim - to at least reach the crossover matches and then reach the quarter-finals. I think we have a fair chance to do so," stated Cox.

"Of course, Australia is a big clash against the number one team in the world, England is going to be a tight game and China, if you look at the world rankings, that should be a win but in men's hockey you can't say that it's going to be that straightforward."

A quarter-final finish would represent another significant step forward for the Irish team and would also boost their chances of qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The performance of the women's team in London has raised the bar for the men's side but Bell is confident they can step up to the challenge: "I think teams know when they play Ireland that they're going to get a dogged, tough opponent and we don't fear anybody.

"If we go out there and play to our strengths and bring our strengths I think we can be a match for anybody in the world."

Ireland's opening Pool B match at the 2018 Hockey World Cup against Australia takes place on Friday, 30 November at 11:30 GMT.

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