Cargo travels unexpected route to Irish selection as late Ulster call proves seminal

For many Olympians, they often cite long-term goal-setting as one of the central road-maps to their sporting success. Outlining plans for an international future, though, could not have been further from Chris Cargo’s plans in 2009 mere months before his debut.

Since then, the Bangor man has become a near ever-present in the national squad, popping up in a variety of different positions. Looking back, he reflects: “I didn’t think I would ever play for Ireland if I was honest!”

His hockey beginnings came on the county Down coast. With the Grammar school, his coaches Chris Harte and Roy Mairs helped cultivate his love of sports, particularly hockey and cricket.

Chris Cargo lines up a shot against Korea earlier this summer. Picture: Adrian Boehm

Chris Cargo lines up a shot against Korea earlier this summer. Picture: Adrian Boehm

With the club, Cargo made his first team breakthrough under the coaching of Brian Davis at the age of 16. It came at a time when Bangor were riding high, earning a place in the Ulster Premier League and subsequently finishing fourth in the 2003/04 season.

Indeed, Cargo said he was pleased he got to show Davis his 100th cap after World League Round 2 last year. He passed away, though, before Ireland had qualified for the Olympics.

After school, he moved to Bath for his studies but – despite having played plenty of representative hockey at underage level – he went relatively under the radar while with the Buccaneers.

His big break came at the senior interprovincials in March 2009. He was not initially selected for the Ulster team but a late injury to David Ames saw Davy Scott offer him the chance to scramble over from England for the tournament.

Cargo scored twice in two games and was generally one of the most impressive performers over that weekend in Garryduff. From outside the provincial plans, he was suddenly in the international frame and made his debut three months later in the Celtic Cup.

Asked about that whirlwind summer, though, he says the basis for his rise was less overnight and more a year in the making. He finished his undergrad degree and decided to stay in the university for one more year.

But there was an inkling he could make it at a high level and so he made the call to Reading ahead of the 2008/09 campaign to see if he could try out for the them.

Chris Cargo with his father Jack at the equipment presentation last Sunday in Carton House. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Chris Cargo with his father Jack at the equipment presentation last Sunday in Carton House. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“I had a decision to make whether I would stay with or whether I wanted to try and make it in the Premier League in England.

“I made the call to Reading that summer. I was lucky enough to play a bit of the Euro Hockey League that year and, from there, that got me noticed by Davy Scott to get called into the Ulster training squad.”

While he did not get picked initially, he certainly took his chance when it came and “Paul Revington asked me into the squad that summer and the rest went from there!

“Before that I had played with the Ulster Under-21s in the interpros but, no, I hadn’t any contact with any Irish squad. If I’m honest, I really didn’t think I would get a call. It did come out of the blue and am really grateful that it did!”

There was still some self-doubt.

“I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I probably didn’t have any real dream of going to the Olympics back then.

“When I made the decision to move to Reading, a lot of the guys I played underage with growing up were getting in the Irish squad and had caps. I thought maybe I could be at that level but I hadn’t seen many of them play much over the four or five years so I wasn’t sure if they had improved far more than me.

“But the minute I got involved with the squad, pretty quickly I did start setting goals of trying to qualify Ireland for World Cups and the Olympics.”

His first cap came in what has developed into something of folklore. Due to a rammed international schedule, Revington sent pretty much a scratch team to the Celtic Cup.

“At the time, we not really know it but we had the likes of myself, Paul Gleghorne, Peter Caruth and David Fitzgerald on their first trip. John Jackson was certainly the most capped and he wouldn’t have had more than 50.

Cargo in action in the Celtic Cup in Lisnagarvey in 2012. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Cargo in action in the Celtic Cup in Lisnagarvey in 2012. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“Most expected us to struggle but we went on to win it. Ned was the coach for that tournament. Looking back on it, it was a special time to be involved.”

Indeed, many of the panel have stuck together through an emotional rollercoaster since those years. Twelve of the panel from the World Cup qualifiers in 2009 are still about with Cargo adding to the side on a full-time basis since 2010.

“It is a major factor [in our success], especially as a lot of the core group stayed together after 2012 when we might have had 50 or 60 caps on average each.

“Now, we have played a lot together in that last two years and all have about 140 or 150 caps each. Combine that experience with the new guys coming in and each of them, from number 1 to 27 – the combination of them knowing they have train and push really hard to get into the side – has pushed us on.”

And now, the side is en route to Rio, flying out to Argentina on Tuesday afternoon for their initial holding camp. The presentation of kit last Sunday at Carton House made things that bit more real.

“We’ve had a pretty busy summer, a lot of training and a lot of matches. It has been really good to be together so much as a squad. We all knew when we started training that unfortunately, of the 27 of us, we weren’t all going to go into the 16.

“It’s been something the lads have been concentrating on for the last number of years. When I got told I made it, it was an awesome dream come true but also a bit surreal.”

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