THE Irish men’s hockey team performances this year have shown that they’re not ‘a flash in the pan’, according to Conor Harte.
The Ballinspittle hockey star helped Ireland retain their A Division status at the recent European Hockey Championships in Amsterdam – and that came at the end of a hectic spell for Conor who represented Ireland at the World Hockey League in South Africa in early July and then got married at the end of that month.
‘Let’s just say it all fitted,’ Conor smiled.
‘I left Ireland on June 30th, arrived home on July 25th to get married on July 30th.
‘I then enjoyed 12 days with my new wife Leagh before again leaving her for the Europeans in Amsterdam.
‘Busy is a huge understatement, but Leagh and I both know this isn’t forever.’
As well as that, Conor recently signed a new two-year deal with his club Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles and will start his fourth season with the Belgian outfit.
‘I’m very excited about the season ahead with Racing,’ he said, and that same excitement applies to the future of the Irish men’s hockey team that is ranked tenth in the world.
The Europeans can be described as a bittersweet experience, Conor says. Ireland made history by getting their first-ever result against Germany in a major tournament (1-1), missed out on the semi-final by a goal after losing to England and then needed a draw against Austria (2-2) to keep their A Division top-flight status.
‘Having played in the European B Division in 2009 to get promoted to the A division, I still remember the elation and excitement on getting to play the top eight teams in Europe,’ Conor said.
‘Hockey in Europe is so strong and is getting stronger, so when we came out on top of the World League 2 tournament in Belfast last March – it was basically a glorified European B division with all the teams competing – it was the start of another good phase for our new and young team.
‘The importance of holding onto our A division spot is incomprehensible and means we will return to play the next Europeans in Belgium in 2019.
‘It’s important for giving us as players an opportunity to compete at another top level tournament and play in an arena in front of 10,000 spectators, which was what we did in Amsterdam.
‘Pushing towards the World Cup in December 2018, momentum is a powerful thing and staying up will leave a positive feeling in the back of all our minds. Also we hope that potential sponsors will view us as sponsor worthy and that we mean business.
‘We aren’t just a flash in the pan,’ he stressed, adding it shows how far Ireland have progressed that they were disappointed to not make the semi-finals, having reached them for the first time ever in 2015.
‘If someone in January said, “come here, you guys will qualify for your first World Cup in 30-plus years and retain A division status at the top tier of European hockey, while using two different squads and blood new young players”, I would have bitten their hand off!’ he added.
Conor reached 200 international caps in May, and was joined on the landmark figure by his twin brother and Irish goalkeeper David last month.
The Kinsale brothers, 29 years old, have their sights set on a lot more.
‘David making his 200th cap in Holland was a very special occasion. Also for him it was like making his 200th cap in his home away from home as he will be starting his eighth season in Holland this month,’ Conor explained.
‘Once we both keep enjoying what we are doing hockey wise we will definitely be pushing for 250 and 300 caps. Why not?’