Eugene Magee is hoping he’ll soon be feeling on top of the world.
The Banbridge Hockey Club captain and club-mates Stevie Dowds and Drew Carlisle are all set for the final leg of their Olympic qualification campaign in World League Three.
Having successfully negotiated their way through World League Two in San Diego in March, the Green Machine can secure their spot in Rio’s 2016 Games with a good finish in Belgium. Their campaign begins this morning (Tuesday) at 11am against Great Britain. Tune in to Sky Sports to watch the match live.
“This would be the top,” said Eugene, who so desperately wants to play in the Olympics for the first time. “It would be the pinnacle of everything. It would be our Mount Everest of accomplishments.”
It’s a summit that the Banbridge lads are focused on conquering, although they’re not quite sure what constitutes a good enough finish in Belgium just yet,
“It’s still up in the air,” said Eugene.
“The top three will definitely go through and after that, it depends. The likelihood is that top four will get us there.
“We could end the tournament and still not know if we have done enough to qualify.”
That’s because India, who are also competing in the Belgian series, have already secured their spot in Rio thanks to their Asian Games victory.
Placed ninth in the world rankings, should India finish in the top three in Antwerp, fourth would be enough to secure qualification for Ireland.
And with world champions Australia likely to confirm their spot via the Oceania Cup (a tournament they have won all seven times it has been played) in October, fifth could even be enough.
Eugene and his Ireland side are out to make amends after missing out on the 2012 Olympics in the most heart-breaking fashion.
South Korea’s winner two seconds from time in the qualifying tournament final in Dublin dashed their hopes of making it to the London Olympics.
“It’s been motivating us for the last four years,” said Eugene. “We all really want it. We know how much it means and now we have to go out and do it.”
Six of Ireland’s opponents are ranked above Ireland but Eugene reckons his side have what it takes to upset the odds.
“This is a really good squad, well trained and well oiled,” he said.
“The lads are all feeling good. We have a week to prepare in Belgium, play our warm-up games and get ourselves into the right tempo for the competition.
“We’ve a good balance in the squad between experience and youth. We need to utilise those in the right way, start well and go on with that confidence.
“We need to do well in the group stages. Our aim is to finish at least third in our pool and go on into the classification matches from there.”
Ireland’s opponents in the series are hosts Belgium, Australia, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, China, France, Malaysia and Poland.
You can watch all of Ireland’s matches live on Sky Sports. Their second opponents are Malaysia on Thursday at 1pm, China on Friday at 5pm and Belgium on Sunday at 5pm. After that, Ireland will play the classification matches, where they will hope to secure a spot in the Olympics.