Irish coach Craig Fulton refused to get too carried away with Ireland’s 2-1 win over world number fives England this afternoon but did suggest it will go a good way to building the belief in the squad.
It ended a 12-year wait for victory over England while it has been 65 years since they have achieved the feat on Irish soil, dating back to April 1949.Speaking after the result, he was willing to take the positives but was cautious to add that Ireland “haven’t arrived” just because of this accomplished performance. Indeed, with the Investec Cup starting on Wednesday with games against England, Scotland and South Africa, there are further challenges close at hand.
“I don’t want to read too much into today. It’s good to break the hoodoo of beating England. To do it in Dublin with a new group and a new regime with new belief; it’s very positive. We deservedly put in a good performance to get the result so I am happy for the guys.
“We have a squad of 25 and we will keep our feet on the ground [going into the Investec London Cup]. We are up against top opposition who are ranked higher than us. We haven’t arrived, we still have a lot to do but it’s just a good stepping stone and platform for the guys to get their belief back and build from there.”
One of the impressive facets of the performance was the maturity in midfield despite tender years. Michael Robson played for the Irish Under-18s this time last year while Kirk Shimmins is just a year out of school. Stephen Cole, Shane O’Donoghue and Drew Carlisle are considered the experience in this area as Fulton looks for long-term solutions to the departures of David Ames and Ian Sloan while John Jermyn, Geoff McCabe and Andy McConnell have not featured in recent times.
“It was nice to see them perform in Malaysia; that’s where that started. I know they can get better if they play more games; we just need to throw them in at the deep end. Iron sharpens iron!”
Shimmins and Robson will both stay with the senior panel despite being eligible for the Under-21s’ European championship bid which gets under way next week.
Fulton explains the decision: “We have lost a lot of senior players across the midfield. If you look at our caps-spread, it’s top heavy at the front and back and, in midfield, it’s scarce. So we need to play those guys more often in there. The Under-21 is a big programme, no doubt about it, but the senior team takes preference for certain players and I have selected them.
“Rio is 100pc the goal; it’s key that we get the right players back in the group and have the commitment there from everyone because competition [for places] is high. It’s a good place to be for Irish hockey.”
Mikey Watt, meanwhile, was celebrating his 50th goal in Irish colours. He told The Hook afterwards that, beyond a couple of goals against France in his debut tournament – the qualifier in Auckland for the 2008 Olympics – they “are all a bit of blur”.
He becomes the first non-penalty corner specialist to reach that milestone but what pleased him most about the performance was Ireland’s ability to get one over a side that Ireland are looking to emulate in their approach.
“They are a team we really respect and strive to emulate, have the same characteristics as them. Them and Australia are the two most hard-working teams around and that’s something we are striving for over the next months leading into the Olympic qualifier [in February 2015].
“The Aussies physically dominated everyone in the World Cup; England try to as well. We are trying to do that ourselves. Sometimes we don’t have as much strength in depth as teams like Holland or Germany but you have to try and get yourself to that [physical] peak and that’s what we are trying to do.”
Asked how far away Ireland are from that top-tier status, Watt said: “We never are [a long way off that standard] and never have been. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. We are rebuilding in some areas of our team but February is the first qualifier so we have time to get ourselves physically better and hopefully we will be in full shape.”
He similarly lauded the young players who are part of that rebuilding: “They are only 18 or 19, only out of school. Them and Petie Brown as well.
“The fact they are part of our midfield team and take on so much responsibility at a young age is brilliant to see and a couple of them could be really be performers for Ireland in the next few months.”