BY KIERAN McCARTHY
A KINSALE man who is only the fifth Irish male hockey player to reach the 200-cap milestone has his Harte set on many more.
Irish hockey star Conor Harte (29) joined an elite club when he played – and scored, firing home a 17th minute penalty corner – in Ireland’s 2-2 draw with Pakistan last week, becoming just the fifth Irish player to make 200 appearances for his country.
Ronan Gormley, Eugene Magee, John Jackson and Michael Watt have all previously joined this exclusive club, and Harte feels it’s a sign of the times, and demands of modern hockey, that he’s reached 200 caps since making his debut in 2006 alongside his twin brother and Ireland goalkeeper David.
‘It’s a great honour and to score against Pakistan, too, capped it off nicely,’ explained Conor who represented Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
‘It might be the era that we are in now where 200, 250 caps are tangible whereas before it never was. For the generations before if you came anywhere near 100 caps you were doing seriously well and probably in the set-up about 15 years,
‘I am the first Munster man to reach the milestone and it shows how much it has changed, how professional the set-up is now and how people now commit their lives to it.
‘I didn’t play a lot of games in 2007 but since 2008 it’s been pretty full on.
‘I will take every chance I can to play for Ireland, you can’t take it for granted because you never know when it will be your last time. You have to cherish the moment, make the most of it.’
And, according to Ireland coach Craig Fulton, there’s more to come.
‘I think we are still to see the best of him,’ he said.
Conor’s brother David, the world’s best hockey goalkeeper for the past two years, isn’t too far behind either and is odds-on to reach the 200-cap mark in the near future – and the Harte brothers were also buoyed by more good news last Thursday as they boarded the bus ahead of the game against Pakistan, as their sister Ciara gave birth to a baby girl.
‘It’s another niece to spoil,’ said Conor, who also has another major landmark approaching at the end of July: his wedding to Leagh Mullins.
Their wedding comes in between the Hockey World Cup qualifiers in South Africa and the European championships in Amsterdam, and they’re planning their Cork wedding – church in Cloughduv, reception in Kinsale – from Belgium where they live (Conor plays for Racing Club de Bruxelles), so these are busy times for Conor.
‘We had a three-test series against Pakistan ahead of their World Cup qualifier (which Ireland won 2-0),’ he said.
‘Our World Cup qualifier in South Africa begins in July, which we’re preparing for now. We are going to Germany at the end of June for an invitational tournament called the Hamburg Masters where we play three games before we go to Johannesburg for the World Cup qualifiers.
‘We have a break after that and I’ve to get married at the end of July, and then we have the European Championships which start on August 16th in Amsterdam, so it’s full on for the next few months.’