Rookie Irish men’s coach Mark Tumilty admits the experience of his assistant Jason Lee will prove crucial ahead of their two-legged Olympic qualifier against Canada. The double-header will be Tumilty’s first competitive ties since taking over from Alexander Cox, who resigned following European relegation in August.
It has been a helter-skelter acclimatisation for the coach since then, putting a plan in place for their potential ticket to Tokyo. But Lee brings a huge bank of knowledge, having played in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics before coaching Great Britain for four Games.
“He’s been to six Olympic Games and understands what it takes to get there. He mixes well with the group and has the right personality,” said Tumilty from Ireland’s Vancouver base. “The real positive is we both see the game in the same way — I enjoy working with him and his knowledge will be vital over these 10 days.
“He understands the Irish mentality. His wife [Laura Lee] played 30 times for the country so he knows the mindset and sees a lot of potential.”
Crucial to that is rebuilding the “no excuses, siege mentality” the side were famous for on their rise to the world’s top 10 and 2016 Olympic qualification.
That veneer has been eroded in the last 12 months with the body language at the Euros alarmingly downtrodden, amid what looked a very rigid environment. As such, Tumilty has put a big focus on team-building over the last four weeks.
“It has to be fun and that will translate onto the pitch,” Tumilty admitted.
We are not in holiday mode. I have been impressed with the team spirit and the lads are good like that with their work ethic.
On the pitch, two test match wins over higher-ranked France in Bordeaux provided a positive start while Tumilty was not overly concerned by a 6-0 loss to the world and European champions Belgium in their final warm-up game.
The side have primarily been based at University of British Columbia for training since arrival in Canada but will switch to the event venue at Rutledge Field from tomorrow. That turf was only laid six weeks ago and so will be something of an unknown factor for both sides in terms of pace.
The hosts do have some inside knowledge of the Irish in their camp. Brad Logan — a South African by birth but recently qualified to play for Canada, via his mother — worked with Tumilty at Banbridge in the 2015/16 season.
Whether that will have any relevance for Tumilty’s tactical plan is unlikely with several big changes to the Euros panel with a greater attacking emphasis and a focus on more penalty corner variations. It means a limited bank of video research to work off. On the flip side, the Irish boss feels they have plenty done on a settled Canadian side.
“We’ve watched lots of video; they are an experienced group, rely a lot on corners and are probably similar in make-up to ourselves. There is plenty of knowledge from playing against each other a lot.”
Ireland’s matches with Canada will be played at 10pm (Irish time) on Saturday and Sunday, with the best aggregate total from the two games deciding the Olympic ticket.