Wednesday 12 December 2018

Harte a hero in India and needs to be for Ireland in Cup opener

 

Ireland goalkeeper David Harte. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland goalkeeper David Harte. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Stephen Findlater and Rod Gilmour

While David Harte is by a distance Ireland's most high-profile men's hockey player, it is clear he is far more recognised in India than on home soil.

Standing 6' 4'' with striking blond hair, the two-time world goalkeeper of the year is something of a cult figure in the country after four stints in the Hockey India League.

And Harte will look to add to that status at the World Cup which gets under way today with Ireland meeting favourites Australia this morning.

They do so with most of his team-mates experiencing heavy media attention for the first time in a country where hockey counts as one of the national sports. By his third season, he was embarrassed regularly by hearing his own terrace chant, "Davey Boy, the Harte of Mumbai, he stands up tall, just like a wall".

"It was cringeworthy stuff but nice to get that appreciation. Stepping off team buses and seeing the volume of cameras in your face, the live audience and that is a bit unnerving but you do get used to it," Harte said.

Cauldron

His green machine team enjoyed a spectacular opening ceremony on Tuesday, reportedly costing the local Odisha government $14m, while Wednesday's first day of matches saw a sold-out crowd of 15,000 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.

Harte said it is a real cauldron: "Bhubaneswar was one of the only Hockey India League stadiums which was sold out for every single match. You had people trying to sneak in - they are hockey-mad despite it being more rural that Mumbai or Delhi. It was the first time I played in a place where you simply couldn't communicate with your defenders!"

It will be Ireland's first World Cup appearance since 1990 but the target is a top-eight finish at the least. After Australia, they will play winnable group games against England and China with the top side going into the quarter-finals while second and third go into a crossover game. Ireland have never so much as drawn against the Aussies in nine previous games and so the focus is likely to be on containment.

"Australia will be massive favourites and that's no bad thing being underdogs," defender Jonny Bell said.

"We have a good blend of youth and experience in our team. There's no doubt if we can get things in order, we can get a result."

To do so, they will be reliant on slick work at penalty corners, with Shane O'Donoghue one shy of equalling Ireland's goalscoring record of 93, currently held by John Jermyn.

It is little wonder that Colin Batch, the Australia coach, said on the eve of the tournament: "Any team can cause an upset here. I think Ireland is one of those teams."

Given Australia will field 10 players making World Cup debuts, Ireland will hope to show early muscle under the lights at the Kalinga Stadium.

"There is a bit more pressure on them," added Bell, "we know they have outstanding quality, but it is possible to cause an upset and our squad is fit and strong and healthy."

One of those is Luke Madeley, who will step in as travelling reserve should illness blight the team, as it has to nations at previous tournaments in Odisha's temple city.

The side is currently in full health, however, with Eugene Magee fit to play despite two broken fingers sustained earlier in the week and arrive in good form after beating Pakistan 1-0 in their last warm-up match at the tournament venue.

In yesterday's other Pool matches, Olympic champions Argentina beat part-timers Spain in a thrilling 4-3 tussle. France, who also last played at the 1990 World Cup, were edged out 2-1 by New Zealand.

Ireland v Australia, Hockey World Cup, Live, BT Sport 1, 11.30am

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