TERRIFIED. That’s how David Harte felt when he ruptured his hamstring in May 2021 and faced a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The Ballinspittle man feared the worst. He knew this was a bad injury. The worst of his long professional hockey career. The shooting, searing pain that shot up his left leg set off alarm bells immediately. It hurt so much.
Harte knew his season was over – but, having just turned 33, he feared it was possibly career-ending.
‘It was a 19-centimetre rupture. My hamstring came apart, more or less. It was the worst injury that I’ve had. I was staring into a difficult place in my sporting career, not sure whether I would be able to come back or how long it would take me,’ Harte told The Star Sport Podcast.
He can pinpoint the moment he tore his hamstring. It was Thursday, May 13th, 2021. Ironically, it had the potential to be a great day. Harte, twice voted the best men’s hockey goalkeeper in the world, and his SV Kampong team were in a battle with rivals Bloemendaal for the Hoofdklasse (men’s hockey) title in The Netherlands. This was the first in the two-game final. After it finished 2-2, it went to a shoot-out – and this is when it all went wrong for Harte. Pulling off a trademark save, Harte did the splits and ripped his hamstring.
‘I knew straight away that something wasn’t right,’ Harte says, but he tried to play on and went back in goal. He didn’t want to let his team down. Eventually, the West Cork man limped off. Kampong lost that shoot-out and the second game in the series as Bloemendaal retained their men’s Hoofdklasse title. Harte’s mind was already elsewhere.
‘I remember speaking with the orthopedic surgeon and my first question was: is this career-ending?’ he says.
‘He reassured me that the doctor I went to see in Amsterdam was phenomenal; he had seen Paul Pogba a few years earlier and he said I was seeing the right man to deal with these injuries.
‘I had never had an injury of that nature before. We have all been there with knocks and niggles, so to miss half a year was very disappointing. I set myself a target that I was going to go all in on this recovery, that’s the mindset that I approached it with.’
It was a long and, at times, lonely journey back to the hockey pitch. Every day last summer he was rehabbing at his club in Utrecht. Team-mates were either at the Olympics in Tokyo or on holidays, but Harte had his eyes on a different prize: his comeback.
‘My physio said that he didn't expect me to come back so quickly,’ he says, but in November, in a league game against HGC, Harte was back in goal and kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win. He started the next three games in the first half of the season. He’s back.
‘It has made me appreciate how much I still love the game and that I still have the passion for it. We played a big rival, HGC, and won 2-0. It was a home game, my wife (Lyn) and daughter (Georgia Emma) came onto the pitch at the end. It was a phenomenal feeling,’ he says.
Class is permanent, too, and earlier this month he signed a new two-year contract with Kampong. Rewind back to May 2021 when he feared his career might be over, but now he has the security of a new deal with his Dutch hockey club.
‘It’s a massive relief. Any sports person who is in their early 30s, and creeping upwards, will understand that the end is closer than the start was,’ he says.
‘In one way it’s very comforting to know that the club gives you that respect and has that trust in you to continue on playing.’
The second half of the season has the potential to be epic. Kampong are second in the league, behind champions Bloemendaal, and also have the Euro Hockey League – the equivalent of the Champions League for hockey – in April. Harte also wants to get back between the posts for Ireland. He has 225 international caps, from his debut in 2006 up to 2019, and he captained Ireland at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 as well. He feels he has more to offer.
‘I would love to return to international hockey again,’ he states, ‘and the contract extension here gives me that further incentive because I will be playing and training at the highest level week in and week out for the next two years.
‘I think Paris 2024 (Olympic Games) would definitely be the end of the road, definitely for myself.’
Life off the pitch is busy, too, for the former Bandon Grammar School student. He was re-elected onto the Olympic Federation of Ireland Athletes’ Commission last month, and has been a member of this Commission since 2017. He is also the current Secretary of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) Athletes’ Commission. Next month, Harte is starting an exciting new role in the world of professional football with Dutch club FC Utrecht. He knows his full-time hockey career won’t last forever and is forward-planning for life after.
‘My role is a performance and education tutor to the youth academy, for the U16s, U17s and U18s,’ he explains.
‘I finished up my masters (Master of Arts in Sport Business at Leeds Beckett University) in December, I knew I wanted to continue in the sporting world and this is a phenomenal opportunity that I couldn't say no to.
‘This will be great to combine my background as a PE teacher and other things I have been doing with organisations such as the World Academy of Sport where we are looking to ensure that student athletes have great balance between their studies and their performances on the pitch – and that’s what I will be looking at with these young footballers.’
FC Utrecht’s stadium is only five minutes from Harte’s home. He passes it every day when he cycles to training at Kampong. Now, he will combine his role with his hockey career. Excited: that’s the word he uses now with so much to look forward to in the months ahead.