Lukewarm welcome fuels Irish siege mentality

Conor Harte says elements are combining perfectly to rekindle the “no excuses” mantra in the Irish men’s team just in time for this weekend’s Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver.

Lukewarm welcome fuels Irish siege mentality

Conor Harte says elements are combining perfectly to rekindle the “no excuses” mantra in the Irish men’s team just in time for this weekend’s Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver.

Usually, the hockey spots to the Games are handed out in a tournament format with, as in 2016, five out of 10 entrants earning their place at the main event. For Tokyo, however, there is no such margin for error.

Ireland will meet Canada tomorrow and Sunday (in what has now become two grudge fixtures) with the best aggregate scoreline deciding who qualifies.

If that was not enough to focus the mind, whether by accident or design, a series of irritations are helping to fuel that siege mentality.

International Hockey Federation stipulations require the hosts to offer two hotels and provide transport to the event venue.

One hotel was booked out while the other was far out of budget at $300 per person per night.

It left the team to source their own accommodation an hour from town while the players have taken turns to drive rented mini-vans.

Access to Rutledge field, where the games will be played under the shadow of Grouse Mountain, was only available six days after arrival.

While slightly annoying, the Kinsale man — who earned his 250th Irish cap against Belgium last week in a challenge match — says each little annoyance is stoking the fires of motivation.

“You don’t even need to put something up on the changing room wall about why we want to beat them so badly.

“It is just in the back of the mind and it’s gearing us up nicely.

“We are getting back to that feeling of against all odds, no excuses — us against everyone else.”

The new management team of Mark Tumilty and Jason Lee — a six-time Olympian with Great Britain — has helped realign spirits since the dejection of August’s European delegation.

“Mark’s a really good guy, passionate; Irish, knows his stuff. Jason is equally driven and they are a good team. It’s a totally different feeling; I am not going to sit here and bash Alexander Cox to you after the Euros but it is refreshing and a new start.

“We drew a big line under the Europeans because there is no point taking any of that baggage into this.”

What also helps is the return of Conor’s twin brother, David — the two-time world goalkeeper of the year — while Olympians Peter Caruth and Chris Cargo have also come back in.

Tumilty’s simple mantra in selection, meanwhile, has been to play players in their preferred positions, allowing them to use their natural instincts.

It will likely mean a return to one-on-on defending which the side was famed for rather than Cox’s zonal structure.

A wider variety of penalty corners will also need to be employed given the length of time each side has had to work out each other’s set pieces.

Of the seven men’s qualifier match-ups being played around the world, this probably the most evenly poised.

Ireland have not lost to Canada in 11 meetings, dating back to 2011, including a 4-2 success at the Rio Olympics.

Since then, their weekend hosts have made steady strides forward, reaching the final of the Pan-Am Games this summer, while Ireland have dropped back from eighth in the world to 13th.

That lost the Green Machine a potential home berth, not that home comforts mean much to the side; just four of their last 36 games were in Ireland.

With the Irish women in the limelight for their ambitious home date next week at Donnybrook’s Energia Park, the men have drifted into the background, something which suits Harte down to the ground.

“It’s perfect, under the radar. We would rather go to Siberia in the depths of winter in the dark to do the job! It’s quite similar here! It’s 8 degrees and the rain has not stopped — Irish rain on speed times 100. It’s part of the new things we have to be prepared for, what if the pitch floods?

“We are here to do a job, half-time after game one on Saturday, second half Sunday and that’s it.”

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