Friday 24 January 2020

Ireland's world-class keeper ready to defy the odds in Rio

David Harte will be part of the Irish hockey team who will represent the country at the Olympic Games Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Harte will be part of the Irish hockey team who will represent the country at the Olympic Games Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

David Medcalf

March 18, 2012. The date is seared into David Harte's brain, much though he would prefer to forget it.

It was the day when a Korean forward called Nam Young Lee torpedoed Ireland's hopes of going to the London Olympics.

"The most gut-wrenching moment of my international hockey career, or hockey career full stop," recalls the goalkeeper of Lee's heart-breaking late score at Belfield.

"It was gone past me before I knew it. The feeling of helplessness was probably the worst part."

Korea went on to finish eighth at the Games, while the Irish were left to bide their time before finally making the grade this time around.

"All those harsh feelings are a distant memory," insists the Irish captain. "It's gone now that we have achieved qualification for Rio."

Counting down

Of the 16 players who lined out for Green Machine that day, nine are in the Olympic Village in Brazil counting down to Ireland's opening match of the Games against India tomorrow.

A tenth, Timmy Cockram, is in Brazil as travelling reserve.

And though Harte's twin brother Conor did not feature on March 18, 2012, this was only because he had sustained an injury earlier during the tournament in Dublin. He will be back at the heart of the Irish defence in Rio.

It's a mature, experienced squad, with an average age of 28.

They got a rare dose of publicity when they won bronze at the European Championships in London last year.

It made it all the sweeter that the medals were earned at the expense of England.

Nevertheless, they are far from household names.

Harte is much more likely to be asked for his autograph on the street in Holland where he plays for the Kampong club in Utrecht than back in Ireland.

He is also widely adored in Mumbai where he has starred with the local franchise for the past two seasons in the lucrative Indian Hockey League.

If it was fame at home he sought, then maybe he and Conor should have stuck with playing Gaelic football for Courcey Rovers in Ballinspittle, near Kinsale.

Both their parents are steeped in GAA tradition, with mother Dora hailing from Kerry while father Ciaran wore the No 1 jersey for Tyrone and is cousin of Red Hand manager Mickey Harte.

The twins were tipped to be selected for Cork at minor level but opted instead for the hockey.

For David, the choice has opened many doors. He was named the world's number one goalkeeper last year.

Kampong, who won the elite EuroHockey League in May, routinely play in front of crowds numbered in thousands.

For the rest of the national squad, there is no such high profile.

The squad of 16 comprises seven from Ulster, six from Leinster and three from Munster.

All but four of them have experience of hockey abroad. Clubs in Belgium, Germany and the UK as well as Holland have benefited from Irish migration to leagues with a higher standard than the domestic fare.

Learning abroad was encouraged by Paul Revington, the pragmatic South African who was the national coach at the time of the Korean setback.

It is also approved by his successor and compatriot Craig Fulton, although having his charges so scattered across Europe can make the organisation of squad sessions a logistical nightmare.

The coach has also had to temper his ambition with consideration of the fact that they are amateurs, who last year had to stump up €500 a head for the privilege of playing international sport.

The team only went to the Europeans thanks to a campaign of public fundraising, which has continued into the Olympic campaign.


Paying to play! Last-minute fund-raisers! Day jobs being put on hold while hockey takes a full-time hold for this momentous summer!

Such desperate measures are certainly not being relied on by their rivals in the Great Britain squad, who are on retainers believed to amount to at least €20,000 a year.

Believe it or not, two of them were involved for Ireland on March 18, 2012 - Cookstown duo of Ian Sloan and David Ames. Fellow Ulster natives Iain Lewers and Mark Gleghorne had already jumped ship and declared for England. They will all be in Brazil. The irony is that Gleghorne's brother Paul is a stalwart of the Irish defence.

Harte is resolutely diplomatic about the shifting allegiances of his four former team-mates, contenting himself with observing: 'To declare yourself an Englishman is quite an interesting choice.'

Then he points to the bronze medals won the expense of Lewers and Co in London last summer.

Repeating such heroics in the Deodoro Stadium over the coming days will require an even greater effort.

Fulton's men find themselves in the opposite half of the draw to the British and in some daunting company.

They must finish fourth or better in their pool of six to retain any hope of progressing to the knockout phase.

Beating perennial contenders Holland or Germany is a tall order, while Argentina are a real bogey side for them.

However, they have a decent track record against Asian sides and so must hope to puncture India's much-hyped ambition, while Canada are well below them in the world rankings.

The Irish are in with a fighting chance of making a real impression in Rio.

Irish Independent

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