Thursday 8 December 2016

'We can play beyond our ranking,' insists Ireland hockey coach Craig Fulton ahead of India clash

Hockey

Sean McGoldrick

Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30

South African born Craig Fulton now guides the fortunes of Ireland who face a punishing five match schedule in the next six days. Photo: Sportsfile
South African born Craig Fulton now guides the fortunes of Ireland who face a punishing five match schedule in the next six days. Photo: Sportsfile

For maybe the first time in his life the fortunes of his native Tyrone won't be the foremost concern of Carrickmore native Kieran Harte this afternoon.

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A cousin of Tyrone boss, Mickey Harte, Kieran was goalkeeper on the Tyrone team beaten by Donegal in the 1972 Ulster final.

But as his native county bids to reach the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park, Harte's focus will be on the Olympic Hockey centre in Deodoro where his twin sons, David and Conor, will be in action for Ireland against India in their opening match in the Olympic tournament (3.0)

It is a momentous moment in the history of Irish hockey as they make their first appearance at the Olympics since the London Games in 1908 and they're the first Irish field team to qualify for the Games since 1948 when an basketball team competed in London.

Bronze medallists at the European championships last August when they famously beat England in the medal game, Ireland face the ultimate challenge in Rio where Canada are the only country ranked lower in Group B.

The 12th ranking Ireland team skipped last night's opening ceremony in order to be in peak shape for their clash against the team currently ranked fifth in the world.

The other countries in the group are the Netherlands and Germany, ranked second and third in the world together with Argentina, ranked seventh.

South African born Craig Fulton, who played with his native country in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, now guides the fortunes of Ireland who face a punishing five match schedule in the next six days. The top four countries in each group will advance to the knock out phase of the tournament.

Realistically Ireland are in bonus territory now, though Fulton insists they will still feel under pressure.

"Wherever we go there's pressure because it's what we put on ourselves. It's our internal standard and belief that we can play beyond our ranking."

Fulton accepts that his side face a giant sized challenge this afternoon, though he suggests that the fact that the game is being play in Rio offers Ireland some hope.

"India are a powerhouse and they're got a huge Olympic history. At the same time, India is very strong in India. But we're meeting them in Rio and they don't have this 15,000-20,000 army behind them.

"So it could work for us. Obviously we have to be in a very good shape to take on that challenge. They were a powerful team, but again it's about us rather than them."

Interestingly there are five other Irish born players in the Olympic tournament in Rio - but they won't be assisting the boys in green. Ulster native Iain Lewers, David Ames, Ian Sloan and Mark Glehorne are part of the Great Britain squad - the latter's brother, Paul plays for Ireland!

Dublin born Fergus Kavanagh moved to Australia with his family when he was four and has carved out a successful career with Australia helping them win bronze medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

Win, lose or draw this afternoon Ireland will have little respite as 24 hours later they face the Netherlands in game two of their Brazilian odyssey.

Irish Independent

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