BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THE world’s number one hockey goalkeeper is regarded as one of the bravest in the business – but don’t ask him to get behind the wheel of a car in India.
Ballinspittle’s David Harte was named the World Hockey Goalkeeper of the Year for the second year in a row last week and to cap it off, he helped Dabang Mumbai qualify for the Hockey India League final last weekend – but unfortunately they lost to Kalinga Lancers in the final.
In the semi-final, Harte was named man-of-the-match after several incredible stops, carrying on the form that has seen him named the world’s best hockey shot-stopper.
This was the fourth year in a row that Harte has competed in Hockey India League which is played over six weeks and sees players bought in an auction by a franchise; he has been bought by Dabang Mumbai each year and he enjoys the experience ... but even he won’t drive on India’s notoriously terrifying roads. (One online help guide is titled ‘A Guide to Driving in India without Dying’).
‘You have to dive right in with the culture, whether that’s food or driving,’ explained the Ireland men’s hockey captain who has 181 international caps to his name.
‘We have been in a car a few times where there have been a few knocks, dents and scrapes, that’s just how it is over here. There is no big fuss, no one stops and gets out, there might be a few angry gestures and looks but everyone gets on with it.
‘I haven’t driven over here, I got behind the wheel of a tuk-tuk once and soon realised it isn’t the smartest decision I ever made. It really is a particular skill, they have indicators that they don’t use, they have wing mirrors that they turn in because they don’t want the get knocked off, instead they go off the blow of a horn.
‘In a two lane system, you have cars four wide driving beside each other ... so it’s probably for the best that I don’t drive here!’
While he won’t make a living as a Mumbai taxi driver, what Harte does have now is another World Hockey Goalkeeper of the Year award that crowns him as the best in the business for the second year in a row.
He is the only Irish man to ever win this award once, not to mind twice.
‘It’s an unbelievable honour and something that I am incredibly proud of, I wouldn’t have imagined winning it again,’ said the former Bandon Grammar School student, who captained the Irish men’s hockey team at the Rio Olympics last year.
‘Looking back on 2016 there was still a bit of disappointment that we didn’t progress to the quarter-final stage of the Olympics with the national team like we wanted to. But this is a nice way to keep Irish hockey at the top table of international hockey and still have Irish hockey recognised, so I am accepting this on behalf of my teammates and all the staff involved with the Irish hockey team.’
Harte – whose twin brother Conor is also on the Irish team – was voted the world’s best hockey goalkeeper ahead of Juan Vivaldi (Argentina), Jaap Stockmann (The Netherlands), Vincent Vanasch (Belgium) and Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh (India).
‘You can’t help but wake up with a smile on your face and think this is a bit surreal to be named, again, the best hockey goalkeeper in the world,’ he said.
‘Maybe I’ll take stock of it in a few months, a few weeks or 20 years time, I’m not sure, I just know that there is so much hockey coming up that I can’t be resting on my laurels,’ he added, noting that the international calendar kicks back into action very soon.
‘From March 11th to 19th, Ireland is hosting the World League 2 competition in Belfast; that’s essentially the first round of our World Cup qualification bid. There will be eight teams, two pools of four, and you have to finish in the top three to progress,’ he explained, with World League events and the European Championships in August in Amsterdam making 2017 another busy year for the Green Machine.
‘It’s not the Olympic year but it’s still an incredibly exciting year, given the potential to qualify for a major event like the World Cup – that’s a huge incentive.’
• David and Conor Harte were both named in the extended Ireland men’s hockey squad for World League 2 in Belfast. Ireland sit in Group A alongside Austria, Italy and Ukraine. Pool B has France, Poland, Scotland and Wales. Ireland will look to finish in the top three to book that coveted World League 3 spot.