Craig Fulton: Ireland Olympic hockey team must be patient against Germany

“Tough and physical.” The exact same words German goalkeeper Nicolas Jacobi and both Dutch players Rob van der Horst and Mirco Pruijser used to describe the Ireland’s men’s hockey team in Rio.

While Craig Fulton’s charges would argue there is more artistry to their style of play, the comments give a clear idea of how his side are viewed by the elite of the sport.

The dynamism shown by Kirk Shimmins, Shane O’Donoghue and John Jermyn shows an ability to attack at speed. 

But the defensive muscle that they have needed to flex fell short against the world’s second-ranked Dutch who ran out 5-0 winners on Sunday evening.

The winners’ attacking flair, especially on the counter-attack, saw them punish Ireland in bursts. 

That was despite the green machine actually shading the main attacking stats in terms of circle penetrations, shots on goal and penalty corners.

And it doesn’t get any easier for the Irish - champions Germany are up next (today, 4.30pm, Irish time) in Deodoro.

Ireland’s most capped player Ronan Gormley has plenty of inside knowledge into their system from his spell with current club Crefelder in the Bundesliga.

And he says it is a far more methodical approach than the off-the-cuff Dutch.

“In typical German style, they analyse and think through each part of what they are doing. 

“You have to be very tactically astute and aware to play against them but we have a good record in the past. 

“Although we lost to them 2-0 in the European Championship in London, it was probably our best performance in London. 

“We frustrated them a lot so we have plenty to take with us into the game.”

That 2-0 loss was the only meeting of the sides in a world ranking event in the past 20 years but Ireland have won three test matches against the Germans in the last five years.

On the flip side, the Honamas did run up over 20 goals in a three game-series in May against Ireland. 

More than any other side, the Germans tend to peak for the Olympics. Indeed, it seems almost traditional they fall well below par in the World Cups which occur midway through their four-year planning cycle. 

Coming into the tournament, hockey superstars like Moritz Fuerste, Christopher Ruhr and Tobias Hauke all hit their straps on the club scene at just the right time and they demolished Canada 6-2 on day one in Rio.

For coach Fulton, his main job is to keep the emotions of his side in check, knowing they will need at least two wins from their remaining three group games to have any chance of progression to the quarter-finals.

“It’s been a rollercoaster. But if we can keep our highs not too high and our lows not too low, we will get our opportunity. We just need to be patient.”

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