An international summer of over 80 matches at each level tips off in earnest with perhaps the biggest of the challenge games, Olympic silver medalists Germany, coming to Pembroke tomorrow and Saturday.
It is the Germans’ first visit to Ireland since 2005 for the UCD pitch opening with 16 meetings between the nations taking place in Germany since then.
Now in the world’s top 10 for more than 18 months, it is a mark that Craig Fulton’s side is seen as a more attractive option to visit for elite countries and these two games will be followed by games against France and USA.
It gives the Irish hockey public a rare sight on home soil of some of the game’s biggest stars like Christopher Ruhr, Timm Herzbruch, and Martin Haner.
At Pembroke, Fulton is able to welcome back Olympians John Jackson, Mitch Darling, and David Fitzgerald for the first time in 2018 following work and injury issues. Paul Gleghorne will hit the 200-cap milestone if he plays a part in either game while Shane O’Donoghue is one away from 150.
Kinsale’s Conor Harte is the vice captain but his twin David is not available. The goalkeeper has been making headline after headline in the Dutch media in the past fortnight with SV Kampong, winning three shoot-outs in a row to help the club to the brink of the Dutch Hoofdklasse final.
They drew twice in the best of three leg semi-finals against HC Oranje-Rood with Harte making the vital saves in the deciding shoot-out each time. He then repeated the trick in the first leg of the final against Amsterdam, his stop from Boris Burkhardt a thoroughly ridiculous piece of dexterity.
Incredibly, Harte has not been beaten in a shootout since 2014. Kampong play leg two on Saturday and then, possibly, leg three on Sunday before facing into the Euro Hockey League FINAL4 the next week.
Elsewhere, the Irish Under-21 men travelled out to the US yesterday for a three-nations tournament that will feature the hosts and Japan, starting on Sunday. UCC’s Sam Grace and Cork C of I’s Julian Dale are among two of the more experienced players in the line-up.
The Irish U16 boys and girls are in Germany for three games each in Dusseldorf with games against the Netherlands and Austria throw in.
On the club front, UCD’s women take on the imposing task of AH&BC Amsterdam in the European Club Cup quarter-final in Surbiton, England on Thursday afternoon.
Monkstown host the women’s EuroHockey Club Trophy — the second tier competition — from Friday to Monday, lining out against French, Spanish and Russian opposition.
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