BY KIERAN McCARTHY
THE dust has started to settle on the Irish men’s hockey team’s first appearance at an Olympic Games in over 100 years, and captain David Harte is understandably proud of what the Green Machine achieved.
Ireland missed out on a place in the quarter-finals at the Games in Rio, but that disappointment was softened by the release of the world rankings shortly afterwards that showed the Irish team has broken into the top ten for the first time ever.
‘That’s a direct reflection of competing in the Olympics, and we got the massive ranking points that competing in such a big event brings. That gave us a good boost, to see that we have got into the top ten for the first time,’ said goalkeeper David, whose twin brother Conor was also on the Irish team.
‘We always said that we wanted Ireland to break into the top ten, and looking at the other teams around us in the top ten, we are the only amateur group so that’s good to see that we are still punching above our weight.’
Ireland are now ranked the tenth best hockey team in the world, up two places from before the Olympics, as they overtook both Korea and Pakistan.
Life is returning to normal for David, from Ringrone between Kinsale and Ballinspittle, after his Olympic experience, but he is confident that the performances of the Green Machine in Rio, and the television and media exposure their games and the team received, will leave a legacy for hockey in Ireland.
‘One of our aims was to help spread the word that hockey is a great game, and I think we achieved that. By talking to some of our friends, it seems by game four and five there were a lot of new-found experts on hockey here at home, which is great,’ David said.
‘We knew the Irish public would back any Irish team competing and that’s definitely what happened.
‘I went down town in Kinsale with my dad when I got back home and there were people coming up to me, shaking my hand, saying congratulations and telling me they enjoyed watching the hockey games during the Olympics – that’s what we want, for everyone to see the game and enjoy it.
‘It would be great if there was a knock-on effect and more positivity surrounding hockey around the country, and I think that will be the case.’
Looking back on the Ireland performances in Rio, there were four Group B defeats – 3-2 v India, 5-0 v The Netherlands, 3-2 v Germany and 3-2 against eventual gold medal winners Argentina – while there was also a 4-2 win against Canada.
That win against the Canadians, in their fourth group game, set up a must-win final group game against Argentina, which the latter won late on, but Ireland battled all the way.
‘When you’re looking at the results there are three 3-2 defeats so we know we weren’t far off; it’s bittersweet in many ways,’ David said.
‘We took it down to the last game to try and get to the quarter-finals, but we came up against an Argentina side that then went on to win gold.
‘We learned a lot of lessons the hard way in Rio but we learned a lot about us as a team as well and we’ll improve for that.
‘The first game, against India, was one where we dropped the ball on. We had an opportunity to get a result there, either a draw or maybe even a win. That (3-2) defeat in the opening game left us playing catch-up from the start.
‘We lost then to The Netherlands and Germany before we beat Canada – that was a must-win game if we were to have any chance of getting out of the group. We know each other inside out having played four times over the summer. They are never an easy team to play against, so we were delighted to get the win and the way we went about it – that set us up for the game Argentina.’
The Argentinians would go on to win the gold medal but Ireland made their own hockey headlines, and former Bandon Grammar School students David and Conor were there to soak it all in.
To make it more special David captained Ireland while Conor scored in the loss to India – special moments that they can always look back on.
‘It was an unforgettable three or four weeks, one of the best experiences of my life,’ David said.
‘You need to be there to appreciate the enormity of it, to see how you can fit 10,000 athletes into one Olympic Village – you should have seen the size of the food hall.
‘At the beginning you are trying to take it all in but by the end of it you feel part of it all, which is a really special feeling.’
2017 is already gearing up as another busy year for the Harte twins and the Irish hockey team, and amongst the many tournaments are the European Championships in The Netherlands.
It’s onwards and upwards for the Hartes and Irish hockey.