WHILE 2020 is a year that so many want to forget, it’s one that David Harte and his wife Lyn will always treasure.
On June 5th, 2020, Georgia Emma Harte was born. It’s not an exaggeration to say that was the moment that life changed for David and Lyn.
Georgia is their first child, was instantly daddy’s little girl and she’s already his biggest fan.
‘She’s keeping me on my toes,’ he laughs, before noting that it didn’t take Georgia long to change her dad’s perspective.
Harte is a two-time world hockey goalkeeper of the year and still one of the best in the business. The Ballinspittle man (32) is big news in The Netherlands where he plays professionally with his club SV Kampong, who he helped win their first league title in 32 years in 2017. He also captained the Irish men’s team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. He’s world class and world renowned. He eats, sleeps and breathes hockey, but Georgia’s arrival has opened his eyes, too.
‘Life has changed since Georgia came along, and there is a different emphasis and different focus,’ he explains.
‘I was, perhaps, blindsided a bit by the fact that hockey had taken over as the priority in my life. I had only tunnel vision for it. It dictated my mood and my actions. That was ultimately unfair on myself, my wife and my family, that the outcome of a match could dictate your mood for a few days after.
‘But having Georgia, you realise that there are so many more important and beautiful things in life, and at the same time it doesn’t take me away from what I want to do on the hockey pitch.
‘It’s nice to know that I have my smallest little hockey fan in the stand cheering me on. She got to come and see me play in one of the first games of the season. It was great to see her and my wife in the stands.’
In the past year, Harte, like most sportspeople, didn’t spend too much time in competitive action. Hockey-wise, it was a stop-start year. He did get to play, as he has since 2017, with Universiti Kuala Lumpur in the Malaysian Hockey League and they won a treble (charity shield, league and cup) early in the year.
‘I came back to The Netherlands in flying-fit form, had a lot of hockey under my belt and suddenly we were hit by the pandemic. We were to play a Friday evening game, on March 13th, but that was cancelled – and that was it. They made the decision then to null and void that season with no relegation and no promotion,’ Harte explains.
While the new season did begin, the Hoofdklasse (the top division of the men’s hockey league in The Netherlands) was put on hold in October after hockey was deemed an amateur sport in the country. That stung Harte. He left West Cork shores to move to Utrecht to follow his dream of playing professionally, so to be suddenly told he’s an amateur athlete didn’t sit well.
‘Myself, my team-mates, my club, the Dutch competition, everyone took that ruling quite hard,’ he says.
‘From my side, it was a huge insult. It was a huge slap in the face that we’re not considered professional athletes even though we have signed professional contracts and we train hard every day and we play in front of thousands each weekend.
‘I have moved countries and committed my life to hockey in order to participate and play in one of the best leagues in the world, and then for some people to come along and say, “well, it’s amateur, actually,” that was really difficult to take. It was very frustrating.’
The Hoofdklasse is not expected to return to action until late January, but that could all change too, so as the new year begins, Harte knows there’s a strong possibility that it will be another unusual season.
‘The most important thing is to try and see can we get back playing the sport that we love, getting back with Kampong and then heading towards next August we have the European Hockey Championship Trophy in Poland with Ireland,’ and, Harte explains, given Ireland’s relegation from the top tier of the European Championships in 2019, next summer’s competition takes on extra significance.
‘That will be vitally important going towards World Cup qualification because from my understanding there potentially might not be too many more events going on in 2021.’
Away from the hockey field, Harte also plans to attend the Tokyo Olympics and it’s there where he’ll discover if his bid to seek election to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission has been successful.
A force on the pitch, the West Cork man wants his voice to be heard off it too. One of the reasons he put his name forward as a candidate is that he doesn’t want to be seen as a hurler on the ditch, blaming this and that, and not actually doing anything about it; he wants to be proactive. Secondly, he wants to see change. ‘Through previous unpleasant experiences, as well as some of the best experiences of my life, I want to try and give back to the next generation and the future athletes who will be following in all Irish Olympians’ footsteps and all Irish hockey players’ footsteps. Hopefully they will have the fair opportunities that we also had and perhaps will even have better opportunities,’ Harte says.
‘In particular, in the last six months there has been a big emphasis on recognising gender equality. Having a daughter, that has really changed in my mind-set.
‘I couldn’t imagine a world where my daughter doesn’t have a fair and equal opportunity in comparison with her male counterparts.’
There’s much to look forward to, so, in the year ahead, and taking centre stage will be his smiling bundle of joy, Georgia. She doesn’t know it yet but with her dad in her corner, she is in the safest hands in the world.