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An ambitious Irish U-21 men's team is aiming for a top four place at the World Canoe Polo Championships next week in Milan, Italy.

Two years ago, the young Irish team finished in sixth place, after an encouraging third at the European Championships a year earlier.

"Although we only heard that we had got a place at the championships on a wild card last March, we have been training hard all summer, meeting two or three times a week for the past three months," says team manager Ciaran Clinton. Team coach is Gerard Conlan.

A squad of seven will travel, ranging in age from 15-year-old John McSweeney to James Mahon, aged 20. Also selected are Marc Denmead, Justin Cullinane, Sean Hendrik, Ben Brogan and David Money. They come from three clubs -- Wildwater, Kilcock and North Kildare.

In their group matches, they will face France, Spain and Belgium.

"Our first match is against Spain and it will be tough, although the last time we played them, we only lost 2-1," says Clinton.

Defending champions are Great Britain, with Germany, France and the Netherlands also producing consistently strong teams.

In the senior competition, Ireland has drawn the big guns France and Germany, as well as South Africa, Sweden and Russia. The hopes will be to pip Sweden for the final qualifying spot.

The Backbone of the team are Wildwater veterans Shane Kinsella and Cathal Gorman who have played in numerous big tournaments over the years. Declan Phelan of Kilcock kept goal at the last World Championships, while Niall Reilly of North Kildare and the Kilcock pair of Paddy Mooney and Garreth Carroll took U-21 bronze at the 2007 Europeans.

Standards in Ireland are improving with courts set up on canals and rivers around the country. Among them is the Grand Canal at Athy, which staged the Irish Club Championships last weekend.

In the division one final, Kilcock won the title for a fifth consecutive year. They beat Wildwater 4-2 in a tactical match. Proving more exciting was the third-place play-off with Swink North Kildare only beating the Devils on a golden goal, scored by Ciaran Clinton.

DCU Muppets beat Wildwater's second team 6-2 for the division two title, while in division three, Kilkenny Aquacats beat Kilcock.