Ireland captain Ronan Gormley (Photo: FIH / www.photopale.com / GF Cohen)
By Stephen Findlater on behalf of the Irish Hockey Association
The Tournament, Electric Ireland FIH Road to London, takes place in UCD, Dublin from 10th - 18th March 2012.
FOUR years ago, the Irish men’s Olympic dream unwound in gut-wrenching fashion in New Zealand. A three-way tie saw Ireland level with the Black Sticks as well as Argentina but they missed out on a one-off playoff for the final place at the Beijing Games by a goal difference of just one.
While many wracked their brains, wondering where an extra goal could have been eked out over the five game group phase, current Irish skipper Ronan Gormley admits it is something he never really dwelt on. He simply states that the side “performed well”. Indeed, focus on performance is a theme which runs through Gormley’s thoughts in spite of a 12-month period which has seen a string of wins.
Among their most recent successes was an epic 5-4 result against a rising Belgian force, a side already qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
When asked whether he was in anyway concerned by some mixed results in the build-up for the Olympic qualifier, which starts on March 10 in Belfield, he is genuinely surprised.
“Until that question, I hadn’t even thought of it. Focus is on performance. It’s nice to get results. There isn’t really excitement in the build-up games as such when you do [beat Belgium].
“It’s another match ticked off; what did we do well and what can we learn for the next match? There’s handshakes and a pat on the back but, after the match, results against that sort of opposition are accumulating. It’s not something you have a skip and a jump about it.”
Last summer, one of the results that announced Ireland as an emerging contender on the world stage was a 5-1 victory over world number six side Korea but Gormley adds what looked a ground-breaking win for supporters was greeted in the same manner.
“It was very similar. It was very matter of fact when we walked off the pitch. We’re going to do the same thing, do our warm down then watch the video, rest and then go again the next day.”
The Asian side, nonetheless, are the biggest hurdle to be overcome in the Electric Ireland FIH Road To London (Olympic qualifier) and are fresh from an incredible comeback series win against New Zealand.
“Korea are the top ranked side so it’s obvious to say they are the calibre team. Malaysia, we’ve had some good battles with them in the past, tight margins so both teams are big challenges. Chile are quite hungry as a lower ranked team; they always fight hard while we’ve had the better of Russia in the last while but they have beaten other higher ranked opposition so need to be taken care of as well.”
On the face of it, Malaysia and Ireland look set for a showdown on the second Saturday of the competition (17th March). The south-east Asian side have been inconsistent with a victory over the Netherlands followed by an 8-1 capitulation to Australia, something which Gormley says makes them both “dangerous and weak at the same time”.
Should Ireland continue their recent upward curve, though, they will be a side to beat. Injury has created some headaches – Gormley among them along with corner specialist John Jermyn – but these appear to be clearing up in good time.
For instance, the skipper came back to the fray in the last of the recent series with Spain in Alicante.
“It was quite early to make the comeback but it reacted really well in the first few days on the couch with my leg elevated, watching the golf and the US Open tennis!
“There are a few niggles but there’s strength in depth. A lot of players were used last year who can step in if they don’t quite make it. But everyone is pulling through now. You’re never going to get away in elite sport – especially with hockey’s intensity – with zero injuries. Last year, we were incredibly lucky. This year, we just have to deal with it.”
The other pressure may come from a sense of expectation after a 2011 which yielded three trophies and a best ever European championships finish but riding such a wave is a positive in Gormley’s eyes.
“It’s a tournament at home and we take great positives from that. There are potential distractions if you let your mind wander but we have been able to control that before. In Monchengladbach [at the Europeans] and the Champions Challenge II a couple of years back, so we have a history of dealing with such pressure.
“Having vocal Irish support there is great and I hear tickets are flying out so I look forward to playing in front of lots of familiar faces and lots of noise.
“The guys just do what they do. We’ve been doing it for the last two or three years, made lots of progress and hopefully can keep doing it. However that affects the public here – if it does so in a positive way – that’s superb for Irish hockey.”