Mark Tumilty reckons experience could be key at the win or bust men’s World Cup qualifiers which get underway next week in Cardiff.
World number 14 ranked Ireland need to win their first two games – starting off against 23rd rated Russia on Thursday, October 21st in the quarter-final – to land a place at the 2023 showpiece event to be played in India.
It has been a quick turnaround time since August’s EuroHockey Championship II campaign in Poland where a fresh-faced Green Machine, featuring eight tournament debutants, took bronze in a first competitive outing in almost two years.
Since then, the vastly experienced Olympian Conor Harte has returned to the fold. Luke Madeley, Jamie Carr and Lee Cole are also available having missed out on playing time at the Euros when they were deemed close contacts in the lead-up to the event.
For Carr and Madeley, it was especially frustrating as they spent 10 days in a Gniezno hotel in quarantine but, all going well, Tumilty feels the extra know-how in big game situations will be invaluable
“There is more experience in this squad and, with the straight knockout format of the tournament, I feel experience will be very important” Tumilty said of selection.
“With Lee Cole and Luke Madeley available along with Tim Cross and Conor Harte, we have plenty of experience in our back four. The other big positive in the squad is that Luke Madeley, Lee Cole, Conor Empey and Conor Harte offer good attacking penalty corner options in addition to Shane O’Donoghue.
“With the Euros, due to Covid and availability, we were lighter in our penalty corner options; it was an important component of my selection decision to ensure we have more penalty corner options on the pitch at all times.”
Of the other changes, Neal Glassey is likely to be deployed in midfield rather than at the back while Sam Hyland and Conor Empey – who both scored on debut last week in a series against Malaysia – have retained their place in the 18-player central panel.
“Neal gives us a more defensive-minded midfielder which I feel is important for this tournament. It is unfortunate for Kevin O’Dea to miss out but he definitely has a great international future ahead of him.
“Conor has done well in the Dutch Hoofdklasse, scoring a few goals there and against Malaysia last week. Sam brings something different, too; I like his playing style and he has excellent basics which I feel is very important at the highest level. He also plays a big role in penalty corner attack and defence. They are two guys who have done the hard work and deserve their opportunity next week.”
In total, there are 11 of the Euros panel who saw game time are retained. Carr and Mark Ingram are the goalkeepers named with Harte, Madeley, Cole, Empey and Hyland coming in for Fergus Gibson, Ian Stewart, Ben Nelson, James Milliken while Mark McNellis and O’Dea are the travelling reserves this time out.
The two-game series against Malaysia was an opportune one, winning the first 3-2 before getting a reality check in a 4-2 defeat to the speedy tigers.
The matches came along at short notice with Lisnagarvey able to accommodate the fixtures under Malaysia’s UK visas for a tour which also encompasses England and Wales.
“Lisnagarvey have been fantastic to work with over the past 15 months. They have been very accommodating with regards to hosting Ulster regional sessions, national sessions, the EDP series and most recently the Malaysia games. Gail Geddis and the Lisnagarvey committee deserves a special mention for the work they have put into hosting the Malaysia games.”
And the lessons learned from that second game will be crucial when it comes to the qualifiers.
“We’re playing knock-out hockey in Cardiff and there’s no room for a bad period in the game at any stage as we found out against Malaysia. We conceded 3 goals in a very short space of time in Quarter 1 which proved costly and a good lesson in how a game an go away from you very quickly”.
“That’s one of the reasons to go with experience, so we have the players can deal with that pressure. We need to execute in both circles when it is really needed. I have confidence this group of players can deliver.
“It will be tough tournament and I would say that any two [of the eight] teams participating have the ability qualify for the World Cup. Our focus is our first game and we will need to produce a very good performance against Russia to progress to the semi-final to have the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup.”
First up are Russia, ranked lower but they did contest a higher level of European competition during the summer in June, scoring plenty of goals despite finishing last.
Tumilty pored over those videos and says they are a good side who play an attacking style of hockey. They have some excellent players with their main strength being in midfield. This was reflected in a strong performance from club side Dinamo Elektrostal in the Euro Hockey League when putting it up to Dutch giant SV Kampong.
“They are definitely a talented side with a goalscoring threat as they proved in the European Championship this summer”
“We go into the tournament well prepared and with a strong squad. It is a matter of whether we can deliver to take that next step and get to a major tournament. It would be massive boost for this senior men’s team to qualify again for a World Cup. It’s a big challenge but is one I certainly believe this group of players have the ability to overcome.”
Should Ireland win that tie, they will face either Wales or Italy on Saturday, October 23 for a place at the World Cup.
Ireland men’s squad for World Cup qualifiers (club/caps)
Jamie Carr (GK, KHC Leuven, 34)
Mark Ingram (GK, Pembroke, 27)
Tom Cross (Annadale, 22)
Luke Madeley (KHC Leuven, 23)
Lee Cole (Monkstown, 90)
Conor Harte (KHC Dragons, 254)
Peter McKibbin (Lisnagarvey, 8)
Kyle Marshall (Old Georgians, 7)
Shane O’Donoghue (Glenanne, 197)
Sean Murray (captain, KHC Leuven, 85)
Neal Glassey (Crefelder HTC, 67)
Daragh Walsh (KHC Leuven, 58)
Michael Robson (Annadale, 120)
Johnny McKee (Banbridge, 49)
Conor Empey (SCHC, 2)
Sam Hyland (YMCA, 2)
Ben Walker (Braxgata, 42)
Jeremy Duncan (Monkstown, 63)
Matthew Nelson (Lisnagarvey, 69)
Kevin O’Dea (UCD, 7)
Head Coach: Mark Tumilty
Assistant coach: Jason Klinkradt
Manager: Neil Irwin
Physical trainer: Eoin Cunniffe
Physio: Cameron Steele
Video technician: Ross Willis
FIH Men’s World Cup 2023 – European qualifier (Cardiff, October 21-24, 2021)
Thursday, October 21: Ireland v Russia, 4pm
Saturday, October 23: semi-final
Sunday, October 24: final/classification matches
** Full tournament information here: https://tms.fih.ch/competitions/1361