KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with Ireland hockey star Conor Harte to chat about the past year
IN the clash of the Hartes, Conor won the war but lost the battle.
Back in early April, the Harte twins went into battle against each other for just the third time ever.
It was defender Conor and his club, Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles, against goalkeeper David and his club, SV Kampong, in a quarter-final of the European Hockey League (EHL).
Victory went to David. Kampong won 4-1. He won the battle.
But Conor could take some consolation from the loss; he scored Racing’s only goal and it was the first time he had scored against his twin brother David, twice voted the best hockey goalkeeper in the world.
‘I have played against him three times and I never scored against him until last April. It was a nice feeling to beat the world’s best goalkeeper,’ Conor smiled, ‘but you don’t over celebrate it either because, after the match, he’s still my brother.
‘But to play against Dave in the EHL was a big highlight from the past year.’
Conor and David joined forces later in the year as the Irish men’s hockey team returned to the Hockey World Cup for the first time in 28 years. But it didn’t go as planned.
Kieran McCarthy: Safe to say the World Cup didn’t go as expected (Ireland didn’t make it past the group stage after draws against Australia and China, and then that loss to England), but what positives can you take from that tournament heading into an important 2019?
Conor Harte: One positive is that we qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. Another positive is that we competed against the world number one team Australia and the world number seven team England until the very last second. It’s also a positive that the younger fellas got a taste for big pressure games in a big pressure tournament, so hopefully everyone can take that experience and use it in a positive way going forward.
The gap between the top 15 teams in the world is getting smaller and smaller. The difference between women’s hockey and men’s hockey now is that the rankings don’t mean as much because anyone can beat anyone. We know that we can give any team out there a match; I think that’s why we were so disappointed to bow out of the World Cup so early.
Kieran: Looking at the results in India, it’s that second game, against China, that cost Ireland. Where did it go wrong there?
Conor: It was 100 per cent the China game. We started well in the tournament, gave a good account of ourselves against Australia and pushed them all the way before ultimately going down 2-1 – but they are the world number one so it’s not a shock that we lost that.
Against China, we were in their circle 30 times and they were in our circle four times and the game finished 1-1, so you need to look at our finishing ability there and other areas. That’s where we came up short. We would have been qualified for the cross-overs before the England game if we had done our job against China.
We went into the game against England knowing that we only needed a draw and that can be difficult. If you go into a game knowing you need to win, the mentality is different. Ultimately we came up short and lost 4-2.
Kieran: There are lessons to be learned there and they’ll need to be applied in 2019 with Olympic qualification up for grabs. David and yourself were in Rio in 2016, so that has to be the aim now, to get to Tokyo 2020?
Conor: Of course, that’s the big prize up for grabs next. Our Olympic qualifying tournament round one begins in France in the middle of June. That’s not far away at all.
They have changed and rejigged the qualification process. We have been drawn in a tournament in France, I think there are eight teams there, and the top two will qualify for the final round of Olympic qualifiers which will be held in October, either home or away. That will consist of a best of three games against one other team. For example, if we finish top two in our tournament, we could be hosting a team like Canada of Germany where it’s best of three games and winner take all.
This is new, it’s never been done before, it’s a different system.
Kieran: That does sound a bit complicated alright but, and if we’re looking for silver linings from the World Cup exit, it could be the spur needed to hit greater heights in 2019?
Conor: Like in any sport, you look at every aspect when you lose. When you win or you are in good form, you gloss over a few things whereas when you lose you might overthink things and look too deeply at matters that aren’t really that important.
It’s been a tough lesson for us to take, we had some fantastic must-perform, must-win games in India and that experience will stand to us going into 2019.
We have a fantastic coaching staff, we have a nice blend of youth and experience in the squad, and we want to be the best version of the Green Machine possible come that that tournament in June in France. That’s what we are aiming for.
Kieran: David and yourself are both home in Kinsale over Christmas, a chance to recharge the batteries and let the minds rest a little, that’s important too, to step outside that hockey bubble.
Conor: You need time to switch off and allow your mind get back up to speed. Hockey is 12 months of the year every year.
When it’s your job too, like with Dave and myself because we are full-time hockey players, and he is doing a Masters and I am doing a PhD, it does get busy, so it’s nice to be able to switch off. It’s all go but it’s the life we chose so I wouldn’t change anything.
I actually got to go away on my honeymoon this past summer, which was a big highlight considering we got married in July 2017. We went to the Maldives, it was our first sun holiday together in eight years. It was badly needed to recharge the batteries! I don’t think I had a holiday in five years so I enjoyed that!
Kieran: Talk to me about this PhD.
Conor: It’s geographical economics and it’s to do with the southern region in Belgium. It’s through Cork IT and that’s why I am so lucky and thankful that CIT have allowed me to live in Belgium all the time and continue with my hockey, but at the same time continue to do my research in the southern region in Belgium, in Wallonie.
I’m very grateful to CIT for their constant support and help in balancing hockey with the PhD.
Busy times for Conor but that’s just the way he likes it. His club Racing went unbeaten in the first half of the season so an exciting 2019 is in store on the club and international front, and with Olympic qualification up for grabs, Conor and David will be key figures, again, for the Green Machine.