The next week will be a make-or-break one for the Irish senior men’s hockey squad as they bid to qualify for the London Olympics.
They take on Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Chile and Malaysia in the qualifying tournament, which takes place at Belfield in Dublin and breakingnews.ie will have coverage of every Ireland game.
They are under no illusions about the task ahead, but there was good news for the squad when Church of Ireland’s John Jermyn came through three warm-up games against the Czech Republic to prove his fitness and make the squad.
Jermyn suffered a fractured ankle last October and while that healed quickly he also did major ligament damage and that took him some time to recover from.
“I honestly thought at one point that I wasn’t going to be fit, it was taking so long to heal,” said Jermyn, “but I have to give great credit to my physio and the Irish coach and management team for all their help and support I got.
“They set me specific targets along the way and thankfully I met them all and was lucky enough to get selected for the squad. For some time now I have been having weekly fitness tests and I had to sent the results to Paul Revington (Irish coach) so they could monitor what stage I was at.
“I really thought I was not going to make it when I wasn’t selected to go on the recent trip to Valencia, but they told me to stay at home and concentrate on my fitness and play games with my club.
“This helped me to get up to match fitness and then I had to move it up another level to get match fit for internationals. Playing the warm-up games against the Czechs helped me and thankfully I have made the squad for the Olympic qualifiers.”
Looking ahead to these, naturally the aim is to qualify, but Jermyn knows that’s easier said than done.
“All games are going to be tough, from the first against Russia to the last against Malaysia. Even if we win all these we may still not go through as we will then play a final in a winner takes all encounter.
“We will be concentrating on one game at a time and right now our sole concentration is on Russia. They are ranked below us at the moment, but are moving up the rankings and a win against them is vital to give up a good start.
“After that it’s a case of taking it one game at a time and if you offered me 1-0 wins in the six games right now I’d take it, no questions asked.”
Jermyn is also hoping they have a number of secret weapons at their disposal for the tournament.
“Playing in front of 2,000 or so Irish fans will be a major lift to us and hopefully we can feed off their support and drive on to victory. Also it would be nice to have a little bit of Irish weather against some of the teams.
“A little bit of rain might prove an advantage to us and it would be nice if the weather worked in our favour for a change,” joked Jermyn.
Joining him in the squad are twin brothers, Conor and David Harte.
They started their playing careers with Bandon Grammar School, before joining Harlequins. From there they moved to Pembroke in Dublin and are currently playing professionally with SCHC in the Dutch Hockey League.
Both will be key players with David now Ireland’s top keeper and his brother playing in defence in front of him.
Playing professionally has helped to bring on their games over the last few years and has also helped the Irish squad on a wider scale as well.
“There are now a number of the squad who are playing professionally in a variety of countries in Europe and I think this has been of huge benefit to us,” said Conor.
Conor and David are now into their second season with SCHC, a move that came about in a peculiar way for him.
“David was contacted by email as they were looking for a goalkeeper and they had seen him play,” said Conor, “when they were on to him they also said they were looking for a defender and asked did he by any chance know Conor Harte.
“He thought at first they were having a laugh, but then realised they weren’t and he pointed out I was his twin brother and from there it was off to Holland for the two of us.”
The club has more than 2,500 members with 25 of them in the senior squad. Irish squad member Mitch Darling also plays at the club and all three are full of praise the set-up and the league over there.
“Games are played on a Sunday at 2.45pm, that’s it no messing. Everyone plays at the same time and that’s it. There is no calling off games for silly reasons and because the time is set you always know what’s happening from week to week.
Like Jermyn, Conor is looking forward to the qualifying tournament.
“We’re all looking forward to getting going and with a home crowd it should be a brilliant atmosphere at Belfield. Most of us are used to playing in front of large crowds at this stage so it should help to drive us on rather than make us nervous.
“We expect the noise levels to be high so to prepare for that we have been training with music blasting at full volume from the PA system to get used to having to shout to be heard on the pitch.
“We are going into the games confident, but also in the knowledge that we will have to perform to the highest level possible to have any chance of going to the Olympics. That would be a dream come true for all of us and we are determined to give it everything to ensure it does,” concluded Conor.
Saturday, March 10: Ireland v Russia.
Sunday, March 11: Ireland v Ukraine.
Tuesday, March 13: Ireland v Korea.
Thursday, March 15: Ireland v Chile.
Saturday, March 17: Ireland v Malaysia.