Ireland must ‘play to best of ability’ to fulfil their Olympic ambitions

Press Eye - Belfast -  Northern Ireland - 09th April 2016 - Photo by William Cherry

Lisnagarvey's Paul Gleghorne with Glenanne's Daryl Carey during Saturdays EY Hockey League match at Comber Road.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th April 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Lisnagarvey's Paul Gleghorne with Glenanne's Daryl Carey during Saturdays EY Hockey League match at Comber Road.

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While Ireland’s men have been handed a tough draw in the Olympic Games group stages, Jonny Bell says the Green Machine have to ‘play to the best of our ability’ to have any chance of progressing from the group.

Ireland will face four current world level title holders in Pool B in Rio.

They have been placed in a group with reigning champions Germany – currently world number three – European winners the Netherlands (second), Pan-American champions Argentina (sixth) and Asian Cup holders India (fifth). Canada (15th) complete the six-team group.

Craig Fulton’s side are the 10th rated side in the competition but will certainly target the games against the Canadians – whom they beat comfortably in February – and India as must-win ties and then take their chances of an upset against the big three.

“There are no easy, straightforward games,” said Bell. “We have to play to the best of our ability to be in with a chance.

“We have beaten teams ranked above us and we will take confidence from Valencia.”

And will the heat in Rio be a factor for the men from the Emerald Isle?

“I haven’t been there before, but I’ve played in the heat before,” Bell commented. “It will be in the mid twenties, but I’ve played in 90% humidity and 40 degrees before, so that makes the 20’s more bearable.

“We’ll be there ahead of the games, so we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, as they say.”

Reacting to the news of the squad announcement and the success for Lisnagarvey players, Lisnagarvey Hockey Club Chairman Mark Murray said their selection was ‘the culmination of sustained excellence over a number of years’.

Mr Murray commented: “It is the realisation of a lifetime’s ambition for these players to go to the Olympics. This is the culmination of sustained excellence over a number of years and hopefully will be a proud moment for the players and their families as they represent Ireland in Rio. It has been a long wait to qualify.

“It’s great to see club captain Jonny Bell making the selection as he is a great role model for the younger players at the club both on and off the pitch.

“Tim Cockram has been chasing his Olympic dream for over ten years, so it is agonising for him to miss the main squad by so little.

“It’s a big achievement to even be in the frame of an Olympic place but I suspect that is hard to see with the squad announcement.

“Given the physical demands of international hockey things may yet change but I know that first and foremost Tim would want the Irish team to be successful in Rio.

“Paul Gleghorne is a more recent addition to the Garvey ranks but his contribution has already been significant. He has been a stalwart of the Ireland team for many years and fully deserves his recognition and selection.

“Mention must also be made of Michael Watt as although he returns to England after the Olympics we as a club were very happy to accommodate him and help him make the Rio squad. Hopefully Michael will look back at his time at Garvey with fond memories.

“As a club we are very proud of all of them and the wider squad too. As passionate supporters of Irish Hockey we hope they play to their potential and enjoy this historic opportunity.”

Despite being part of the squad, there was disappointment, too, for Tim Cockram, who travels with the squad as a reserve.

“It’s a weird one for me, in a lot of respects,” said Tim. “It’s easier and harder for me. I am still there as part of the team, but the likelihood is I won’t step onto the pitch.

“We go to Argentina for a week and a bit, so anything could happen, someone could be injured, so we have to be ready.

“We are fully part of the squad so that if something does happen we are assimilated with the squad. You have to be able to come in straight away and you can’t move in seemlessly if you haven’t been with the team.

“I will do everything they do, but might never play.

“It’s difficult. People who I work with say, ‘brilliant, you’re going to Rio’, people in sport know how hard I’ve worked and know this is a disappointment.

“I also have a young family, I have twin boys who will be two in November, so it is a long time to be away from them.”

Is the Zika virus a concern for the family man?

“It’s definitely something my wife and I have spoken about. I am not sure the golfers are helping. I’m not sure if the reasons they are citing are the entirety of the reason they are not going, but it is definitely an issue that needs to be discussed,

“I can still say I am a member of the Irish Olympic team, I am still going to the Olympic Games, but it is a long time to be away and you have to balance the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, Mikie Watt said he is ‘delighted’ to be heading off to the Olympics.

“I’m absolutely delighted,” Watt commented. “It was a bit of a relief more than anything. I got an email and when it arrived I was really nervous and when I opened it and saw my name on the list there was relief and some excitement.

“From a personal point of view, I’m delighted. It has been a big squad throughout the whole process, and I have some good friends who missed out, so I am also very disappointed for them.

“Most of the guys are quite young, they have plenty of time. I have been involved in hockey for nearly 10 years. I believe the chunk of the squad will try to get to Tokyo.

“There are lots of young guys coming through and hopefully we can do well at the Olympics and put hockey in Northern Ireland, and Ireland as a whole, on the map and encourage kids to become involved in the sport.”

Watt will return to England to full time employment once the Olympics are over, leaving Lisnagarvey for the time being.

“My company has been good to me to give me this time away. I will go back there and see what happens in the next couple of years.

“The Olympics is obviously the pinnacle of anyone’s career in hockey. It’s been my dream for 10 or 15 years, I’m very excited.

“It’s a very exciting time in my career.”