Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rousing home support for Irish


Capitalising on the upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournament which gets underway on March 10 in Belfield, over 325 boys from 24 clubs descended on the National Hockey Stadium last Sunday for a meet and greet with the Irish men’s hockey team.
The event was part of a day-long series of events organised by the Irish Hockey Association as they look to use the tournament as an opportunity to capture the imagination of the young hockey playing public.
Fiona Mills, the National Development Officer, explained to The Hook the nature of the initiative. “We engaged directly with clubs from all over the country with the Leinster based clubs generously hosting blitzes in their home grounds,” she said.
Following the blitzes around the province, clubs then centralised in Belfield to watch part of the Irish men’s training session and then meet the players and get signatures.
“The aim for the day was to raise the profile of the players themselves, the team and primarily the build-up to the tournament itself.
“Everything was done in conjunction with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. All of the boys went home with a flyer, information about the tournament, the official tournament poster. It was all about making sure people were either coming back up in a couple of week’s time or checking it out online.”
Mills was delighted with the turnout, describing it as “phenomenal” as, with volunteers included, it saw 400 people engaged. It follows hot on the heels of a successful taster session in the Mardyke in Cork while the players have been out to schools around the country promoting the game.
Most recently Jason Lynch, Conor and David Harte were in Midleton College while Ronan Gormley was in King’s Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, conducting masterclasses and signing more autographs.
And its an experience the players are really enjoying too as John Jackson told The Hook at the event in Belfield: “If I had something like this when I was a youngster, it would have been fantastic and hopefully it will generate a bit of interest for the qualifiers and hockey in general.
“Signing all those signatures, it was like I was back at the school exam tables, getting a bit of cramp in my hand! But if it means these kids will pick up a hockey stick for the rest of their lives, then we’ll keep signing. That’s the most important thing.”
To that end, Mills hopes it can build on some recent inroads made in building the playing numbers in Ireland.
“The reality is it is all about pushing the number of boys playing the game up and up. We had an 8pc growth in boy’s club numbers in Munster and 13pc growth in Leinster so we’re just looking to build on that year on year.
“The players today were all U-12, all existing club members. It was a different slant from what we did in Cork. That was much more about introducing the sport to boys. What we wanted to do was to get our existing players engaged directly with the Irish team.
It also worked as a follow-up to an earlier initiative by the IHA to get youngsters looking forward to the competition.
“We interviewed eight of the players who put together video messages for clubs and schools which we then sent out. For example, the Corinthian boys came down and were all dying to meet Mitch Darling because he had his DVD played up there. They had already been up in the clubhouse and watched this message from Mitch. It was another layer onto that project.
“The fact so many of the players play abroad, the tournament is such a brilliant opportunity to get them to engage directly with our players in clubs and schools. The lads today were in their element, chatting away. It was brilliant and does so much for the men’s game.”

Gormley aims to fulfil Olympic ambitions

Ireland captain Ronan Gormley (Photo: FIH / / 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.”

UniKL and Thunderbolts on collision course..

SSTMI Thunderbolts and UniKL Young Guns are heading towards a collision course in the Milo Cup Junior Hockey League for the third straight season, after they overcame gritty opponents on Wednesday.
Thunderbolts beat MBI Anderson 5-2, while UniKL Young Guns edged Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) 3-1 in the first leg, and look good to seal their final spots today.
However, UniKL are expected to travel a rocky path as their centre-half Aslam Hanafiah will sit out the match after picking up eight demerit points.
While BJSS will miss Shahiran Zali for the same reason.
“Aslam is our link between defense and attack, and his absence will be greatly felt. But having said that, there is only a slim chance of UniKL squandering a 2-goal lead, and we will go all out to avoid that,” said UniKL manager Amir Azhar.
In the first leg, BJSS took the lead but their game fell apart after that and UniKL walked away with a good cushion.
Both UniKL and Thunderbolts have been sharing the silverware since 2010, but have yet to land the double. In 2010, UniKL won the Overall while Thunderbolts the League title.
And in 2011, Thunderbolts won the Overall, while UniKL the League title. And this year, Thunderbolts took the League title, and the Milo Cup will be a toss between both of them again.
Thunderbolts coach Wan Roslan was more focussed on preparing for the final, than the return leg.
“We did enough to virtually seal the final spot, and hope tro score a few more early goal to douse the Anderson fight-back.
“Having said that, the second leg semi-finals will also be treated as our final drill to prepare for our first JHL double,” said Wan Roslan.
That is no empty talk as the coach has two players fighting for the top-scorers award this season. Shahril Saabah has scored a total of 15 goals of which eight were off penalty corners and seven from field attempts.
And Wan Roslan can also rely upon Sufi Ismat, who has a total of 14, with 11 coming from field, and three from penalty corner attempts.
All four semi-finalists are from Division One, and it indicates that Division Two sides which made the quarter-finals, USM Juniors and Sapura, are way behind the front-runners.
TODAY -- Semi-finals, return leg: UniKL (3) v Bukit Jalil SS (1) (5pm), MBI Anderson (2) v SSTMI Thunderbolts (7.30pm) (5).
(First Leg scores in parenthesis, and matches at Pitch II of the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil).