Saturday 3 December 2016

Globetrotting Harte lives his Olympic dream

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30

Ireland's David Harte plays his club hockey in the Netherlands and India. Photo: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Ireland's David Harte plays his club hockey in the Netherlands and India. Photo: Billy Stickland/INPHO

So, eh, hockey?

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Is that not a game just played in posh schools by soft lads too scared to face the sort of skelping you get in hurling?

"Absolute nonsense!" Davey Harte retorts, roaring with laughter.

The 6' 5" Kinsale native, selected as the world's top hockey goalkeeper last year, may be gearing up to lead Ireland in the Olympics this summer but he still wears his GAA credentials proudly.

"We grew up playing hurling and football with Courcey Rovers," he explains."But we went to a secondary school (Bandon Grammar) that offered hockey and rugby so there was an opportunity then to pick up new sports.

"At the time I wasn't too willing to try them and leave my Gaelic background but, eventually, I fell in love with hockey," he says of the sport that has taken him from Cork Harlequins to Pembroke Wanderers and much further afield.

His family doesn't just have strong Gaelic roots, it includes GAA royalty.

His mum is from Ballyheigue in North Kerry where his grandfather won county hurling medals and his father (Kieran) is a former Tyrone footballer and a first cousin of Mickey Harte.

"My dad was a goalkeeper for Tyrone for many years and played on one of the first GAA teams to travel and play in America," Harte explains.

"I saw it in a programme in Croke Park once. There was a photo of this fella with these lustrous sidelocks hanging off him and it was my dad! So there's very strong GAA connections in our family, the hockey really came from us, through school."

The 'us' includes his twin Conor, a central defender who is also on the Irish Olympic squad, and sister Emer, another senior international.

Clinched

After coming agonisingly close to qualifying for London 2012, Ireland's men clinched their place in Rio by finishing fifth in the 2015 World League.

They are the first team of any kind to represent Ireland at an Olympics since 1948 and their pedigree was confirmed when they subsequently beat England to win a first bronze medal at the European Championships.

Conor Harte plays professionally in Belgium and Davey is in his sixth season in Holland with top club SV Kampong.

They were only beaten in the Dutch final last year by a 'golden goal' after extra-time and this Sunday he'll be in Barcelona, playing in the semi-finals of the Euro League, hockey's equivalent of the Champions League. He has also played in India's six-week winter hockey league (HIL) for the past three years.

Players from outside the continent are bought in annually, through an auction system, but, to ensure they didn't lose him, Harte's club Dabang Mumbai gave him a two-year contract last season.

"It is a bit like what happens in cricket but unfortunately not on the same financial scale," he says of the HIL which has broadened his horizons in every sense.

"As players we are pampered like poodles, put up in five-star hotels yet surrounded by a great depth of poverty in one of the busiest cities in the world.

"You can't begin to imagine the smells, the sounds, the tastes, the feeling of India until you're in it yourself," he says.

"But I like it and I've been fortunate enough to build up a rapport with the city, the team and the fans."

Ireland's six-team Olympic group will pit him against many of his friends as it includes both India and The Netherlands who include five of his Dutch club-mates.

Craig Fulton's squad will come together for full-time training at the end of this month once all their club commitments finish.

Unlike the Hartes, most of the players are amateurs who have put their careers on hold to try to make the final cut when the squad is cut from 27 to 16 in mid-July.

Irish hockey recently started a crowd-funding drive to try to raise the extra €225,000 they need to maximise their Olympic preparations which include an exciting series of home internationals in June/July.

"I'm in the privileged position that hockey is my life, I'm a full-time professional player," Harte says. "But other guys on the team are really going out on a limb and well beyond their means for this Olympics."

Irish Independent

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