New Irish coach Craig Fulton says that he is “90 percent” confident he will have a full panel at his disposal as the summer progresses as he looks to put his personal stamp on the Irish senior men’s squad after a helter-skelter start to his tenure.
He only arrived in Ireland last week ahead of two quick-fire international tussles with a World Cup mode England – losing 3-0 and 6-0 – with a youthful panel and had two training sessions with the panel before putting together his selection for the the Champions Challenge I in Malaysia.
With the side travelling out last Thursday, nine days before the competition in Kuantan, it logistically ruled out a number of players but Fulton says that offers opportunities for players to stake a claim for a prolonged place in his panel for the next two year cycle leading up to the Olympics.
“It’s a new slate and they want to put their best foot forward and see what they can do,” he told The Hook. “Coming in just a week or so ago and there’s a lot of senior players available, I don’t want to detract from anyone who has been selected.
“There was a lot of feedback from Spain [in January] which went well; I watched a lot of video of that from Mick [McKinnon] and Johnny [Caren]. They were my eyes and ears on the ground; I can’t come in and pick players left, right and centre but, at the end of the day I am putting them in the team.”
One of the eye-catching inclusions is certainly Maurice Elliott, a player who Fulton played with during his time with Pembroke though he was in and out of the starting team at that stage. His physical fitness, though, has been immense in recent seasons and Fulton says this could be a big benefit in Malaysia.
“The feedback on Maurice – I haven’t been around or seen him play for quite some time – from Mick, as interim coach, is that he has done really well since being invited into the international environment. He’s fit and we will see what he has to offer.
“Of the forwards available, we will need some warriors out there. You need talent but also a big engine and hopefully he fills that role. The heat is a massive factor. A lot of the players have experienced heat but they don’t experience the humidity which makes a massive difference. The last 20 minutes of a game, playing at four o’clock in the afternoon, it will test anyone.”
Fulton’s arrival in Ireland has been positively received in many quarters but his starting fortnight has been mad-cap for all concerned. He was last in the country for the Olympic qualifier in Dublin in 2012 for four days having stepped down from Pembroke in 2010.
Since then, he has been the technical director with the University of Pretoria’s hockey programme, winning both men’s and women’s national titles under his watch while he has worked with both the South African national teams – acting as men’s assistant in their successful World Cup qualification campaign.
Being back in Ireland where he enjoyed so many successful days with Pembroke – where he won an unprecedented quadruple in the 2008/09 season – he describes as “surreal”. He quickly wants to get into the reality of the job and has approached a number of players who had been unable to fully commit to tournaments in the past 18 months.
“I have really strong memories and a lot of the players are still involved, some of them now as coaches. It’s good to see familiar faces but I really want to assess the situation, cast the net far and wide, get as many players with international intentions back in the frame and start from there.
“After CC1, I am 90 percent sure we will have everyone available and go from there to pick a training squad for the next cycle.
“I’ve had quite a lot of those conversations already; there’s another trip to Spain the week after CC1 which is quite a priority. Yes, there’s a lot of communication waiting for confirmation with work and everything else for players to get off and so on. They’re keen and all want to be involved.”
As far as the CC1, Fulton is moderate in his expectations but says it is important to get results against Japan and Poland in the group to aid their ability to land an easier quarter-final opponent and more ranking points.
“Any FIH tournament with world ranking points is immensely important. We’re not that far behind Japan and any points we can gain, we will be fighting for them. I’m new in the position so I am working out how this crop of players is functioning; under guidance from Mick and Johnny, they have done a great job with them.
“We’re going up against some teams at very different stages, heading off to World Cups while other aren’t. We’re in that building phase of getting back into putting our strongest teams forward. We’re not there yet but the objective is to finish as high as possible. We need to get ahead of Japan and one or two other teams. It will be a tall order but it is a positive time to play these teams.”