Chris Cargo admits he had “pretty much given up” on an international career only for fortune to open the door on a 195-cap stint for Ireland.
He retired just before Christmas as the country’s eighth most capped player and a pivotal player in each of the Green Machine’s big successes.
Had David Ames not suffered a last minute injury just before the 2008 interpros, however, Cargo would not have been part of the Ulster side where he shot to prominence.
A few months later, he made his Irish debut in a Celtic Cup winning side, the first of many medals that included the seminal European bronze medal, a first Olympic qualification in over a century, a place in the top 10 in the world along with several gongs at Champions Challenge and World League events.
Prior to that, he only received one invitation to try out with Ireland at the behest of his club coach Bobby Crutchley but was unable to attend due to illness.
“At 23, I thought my time would not come. All the guys I played underage with like John Jackson, Eugene Magee, Timmy Lewis and Alan Sothern all were established. I just remember not even getting picked for Ulster and then getting a late call to see if I was free to fly over.”
He did not see the interpros as an Irish trial but “just a cool thing to do” and played with the pressure off as he mixed it with some of the best players in the country of the time.
Newly installed coach Paul Revington, however, saw more in him, giving him a call-up soon after.
“It was an amazing time and changed my life. In 2008, if you said I would travel the world, winning medals at all these competitions, I would never believe it.
“When Beijing was on, I didn’t watch a single minute! It wasn’t on my radar. To then play in an Olympics, was unbelievable.
“I played with some of the best ever in a green shirt. We never under-estimated ourselves as ‘little old Ireland’; we were so much more confident than that.
“Hopefully, we will be remembered as the first team to qualify for the Olympics and has enabled a few things like the women’s success.
“As someone from not a historically amazing hockey school [Bangor Grammar] or club [Bangor HC], maybe I showed there is a chance to play for Ireland and hopefully we see people from smaller clubs and schools coming through, believing they can wear that green shirt.
“Revs said early on ‘it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a life choice; do you want to do this?’ If you want it, you shouldn’t see it as a sacrifice and this was the opportunity I was so lucky to have.”
Domestically, the second half of the Munster season gets off to a slow start with both the scheduled men’s and women’s indoor leagues cancelled due to a lack of interest.
As a result, Limerick were crowned men’s champions for their three wins and a draw in December while Ashton were the last club standing in the women’s competition. Both will now represent the province at the National Indoor Trophy.