KIERAN McCARTHY got the thoughts of Kinsale’s David Harte, the world’s best hockey goalkeeper, after another phenomenal year for the iconic number one
DAVID Harte’s post-Olympic Games lull was over before it began.
The year after an Olympics is a challenge for all athletes, an emotional drop as life returns to the ordinary after experiencing the extraordinary.
They have to get off the rollercoaster, until the next Games rolls around.
Harte’s post-Olympic experience has been different to most. In fact, the man who captained the Irish men’s hockey team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio has enjoyed a year to rival what’s gone before.
• In February the Kinsale man was named World Hockey Goalkeeper of the Year again. He is the only Irish hockey player to ever win this accolade.
• The 29-year-old won a silver medal with Dabang Mumbai in the Indian Premier League later in February, his fourth year competing in the league where he is the most expensive goalkeeper, snapped up by Mumbai for ,000.
• Named goalkeeper of the tournament, Harte inspired Ireland to win World League 2 held in Belfast in March, moving a step closer to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
• The West Cork man was at his brilliant best as his club SV Kampong won the Dutch title for the first time in 32 years back in May. He made terrific saves to become the first Irishman to win the Dutch Hoofdklasse, regarded as the world’s premier national competition.
• It was on to the Hamburg Masters with Ireland then and Harte was named MVP and ‘most entertaining player’ as the Green Machine defeated Germany 4-2 in the final in June.
• Harte was instrumental as Ireland qualified for the 2018 Hockey World Cup in India after a 1-0 semi-final win against New Zealand at World Hockey League 3 in Johannesburg in July. A fifth place finish at this tournament booked Ireland’s spot in India next December.
• At the European Championships in Holland in August where Ireland, importantly, maintained their position in the A division, he made his 200th international appearance for Ireland – equalling his twin brother Conor who reached the same milestone earlier in the year – and consolidated his position as Ireland’s most capped hockey goalkeeper ever.
• Back in June Harte was named as a member of the nine-strong Olympic Council Ireland Athlete Commission and in October he was elected as Secretary to the European Olympic Committee athletes’ commission, which represents the active elite athletes of the 50 national Olympic Committees of Europe.
With that impressive 2017 sporting CV, Harte can reflect on the past year knowing that he has taken his career on to the next level.
‘It’s been a whirlwind year but one that I can look back on with a lot of pride,’ he said.
‘With the transition from an Olympic year to 2017 there was a bit of a lull and a bit of a dip knowing that there wouldn’t be that massive mega sports event to look forward to at the end of the year – but despite it being a non-Olympic year we were kept very busy with the Irish team and numerous tournaments throughout the year.’
Harte, as you can see by his above achievements in 2017, was instrumental in the success for club and country, and ominously for every team he will face in the new year and beyond, he feels there’s more to come.
‘Right now I can honestly say that I don’t think I am at my best,’ Harte said, even though he is in the running for the World Hockey Goalkeeper of the Year award for a third year in a row.
‘I can get better, that’s the way I see it and that’s how I approach my training sessions with my goalkeeper coaches with my club and country. I always feel there is an extra level that I can reach
‘It’s not necessarily about training harder either, it might be training smarter, watching certain things from video analysis where I can identify small changes in detail that will make me better.
‘I definitely feel there is more to come.’
On and off the field, Harte feels he is improving, admitting that carrying the tag of the world’s best hockey goalkeeper carried its own pressures when he first won it in early 2016.
‘I didn’t think I’d ever say this but winning it for the second time was a bit easier,’ he explained.
‘Maybe the first time I struggled a bit with this imaginary target on my back because there were incredibly high expectations on me from everyone inside and outside of hockey; dealing with those expectations is probably the most difficult side of it.
‘This year I just enjoyed the whole experience more and the awards ceremony was in India at the time when I was playing in the Hockey India League.’
India will be his destination against next December when Ireland compete in the World Cup for the first time since 1980.
‘It’s going to be phenomenal,’ he says.
‘That it’s on in a hockey-mad country like India means it will be the experience of a lifetime for a lot of us. I have played in India four times in the Hockey India League but this will be on another level again so I can’t wait.
‘We want to put ourselves firmly on the world map, being in the top ten in the world, and we will look to get out of our group.
‘Now that the World Cup has been opened up from 12 teams to 16 teams it will be a four pool tournament so we know a top-two finish in our group will get us into a quarter-final – that will be our main goal and objective.’
Considering Ireland have the safest pair of hands in world hockey in goal, you wouldn’t bet against Harte and the Green Machine shocking the world again in 2018.