Eugene Magee says that final selection for the Olympic Games does lift a “weight off us” as he reflects on his inclusion in the 16-player central list along with three reserves named this morning who will travel to Rio.
“It does make it more real to have the decision finally made,” he said. “It’s gutting for a few of the lads but it is a definite stepping stone for the dream that is Rio.”
For the most part, Craig Fulton has kept faith with the panel that got Ireland to an historic first Olympics since 1908, becoming the first Irish team of any description to reach the Games in 68 years.
John Jermyn is the one bolter. A congratulatory Facebook message suggested this day 12 months ago, the Cork C of I man was in his leaky wellies, trout-fishing.
Fast forward to today and he is perhaps the main surprise – despite being 34 with 163 caps to his name – having been out of the Irish reckoning from September 2012 to the early part of this year.
Otherwise, 16 of the World League 3 side and 16 from the European bronze medal winning panel are included. Indeed, it’s an incredibly settled side. Eleven of this squad have been together since the World Cup qualifiers of 2009 when the guts of the side formed.
They came within moments of qualifying for London in 2012, denied at the death by Korea with seven seconds to go. Many considered stepping back from the international set-up at that stage, some taking extended breaks.
Magee said that near miss provided the fire to stick with the panel with players coming back into the fold at different intervals.
“2012 probably was the lowest point of our career, certainly mine,” he said. “We were devastated. But you could look at it two ways; we could have stepped away or use it as fuel for this next four years. Many of us took that route and used it to spur us on. It was like ‘now I know how much I really want this’ and am going for it!
Was he tempted to quit? “No! I never would have. I thought, if I have the potential in me to do something special, I think it would be a waste of life not to do something with that potential. That’s what drives me.”
Asked whether he felt that the wait for final selection has been an arduous process, confirmation of a ticket to Rio coming over a year since qualification was effectively sealed in Antwerp, he said that the wait has been far longer than that.
“It doesn’t feel like it has dragged out since Christmas; it feels like the wait has dragged out since 2012. That’s been the aim since then, all training toward the Olympics. There has been major stepping stones along the way; the bronze medal at the Europeans being one, other big wins during that time as others. Everything has been a stepping stone to this, our biggest target.
“Now that the selection is finally made, there is a weight off us but it doesn’t stop us trying to improve and be the best version of ourselves that we can be.”
Looking at the squad, along with Ronan Gormley and John Jackson, Magee is one of only three players to have played for Ireland over 200 times in the sport’s history. David Harte, the world’s best goalkeeper, was the most assured of a place in the squad with Monkstown’s David Fitzgerald was assured a weeks ago of travelling, if fit, as the back-up to don the pads.
Harte’s twin, Conor, will join Jackson and Gormley in the backline with Jonny Bell. Paul Gleghorne completes the defensive line-up, putting him in the unique position in which he could potentially play against his older brother Mark.
The Irish midfield features the freshest faces with Shane O’Donoghue – a nominee for the world’s emerging talent of the year for 2015 – set to be the main pivot in midfield alongside Jermyn and Magee. Pembroke flyer Kirk Shimmins, the youngest member of the panel, and the versatile Chris Cargo got the nod ahead of Michael Robson who travels as a reserve.
Up front, Alan Sothern and Michael Watt both have over 50 international goals to their name and form an attacking unit who have played a huge amount together in the last seven years. Mitch Darling and Peter Caruth were also both part of the class of 2009 when in their early 20s with Kyle Good completing the line-up.
Gareth Watkins and Matthew Bell are the unlucky players to miss out completely with Tim Cockram and Robson travelling to Rio as the outfield reserves.
Magee feels for those who did not make it, especially given the sacrifices the majority have had to make. He is a software developer with Liberty IT who allowed him to take a career break.
“You have to have understanding employers; a lot of us have jobs, mortgages and some with kids. It’s a major sacrifice to concentrate on one goal but, if you are to focus on one, why not be the Olympics! It is the pinnacle.
“I am delighted Liberty IT granted me that career break. It was a gamble, a risk for players to put their working lives on hold.”
Now, the focus is getting the best out of the last 25 days worth of preparation, encompassing a holding camp in Argentina before transferring to Rio on July 29.
“The Olympic mindset is about always trying to be a better version of ourselves; to do that we have to learn.
“It’s not a matter of just showing up. It’s about competing; everybody in our team is selected based on that mindset, that they are fierce competitors, always wanting to improve and try their best.”
Their Olympic challenge begins on August 6th against India in a six-team group from which a top four place will earn a quarter-final berth.
** The Hook will have further reaction to the Olympic squad selection later this week with Shane O’Donoghue and David Harte
Ireland men’s team for the Olympic Games (Rio de Janeiro, August 6th to 21st): Jonny Bell (Lisnagarvey), Chris Cargo (Racing Club de Bruxelles), Peter Caruth (Annadale), Mitch Darling (Rotterdam), Paul Gleghorne (Lisnagarvey), Kyle Good (Monkstown), Ronan Gormley (Krefeld), David Harte (Captain, Kampong), Conor Harte (Racing Club de Bruxelles), John Jackson (Reading), John Jermyn (Cork C of I), Eugene Magee (Banbridge), Shane O’Donoghue (Dragons), Alan Sothern (Pembroke), Kirk Shimmins (Pembroke), Michael Watt (Lisnagarvey)
Reserves: Tim Cockram (Lisnagarvey), Michael Robson (Annadale), David Fitzgerald (Monkstown)