Chris Cargo hailed the Irish fans in Rio as “amazing” as they played their role in the side’s memorable Olympic campaign, providing extra motivation to the green machine.
On numerous occasions, they proved the loudest in the Deodoro stands as a large contingent, boosted at times by fellow Olympians like Paul McGinley, Saskia Tidey and Seamus Power among others, travelled over 9,800km to support the side.
For Cargo, he said that this level of support has been a crucial part of the side’s growth and he hopes the numbers can swell even more in the future.
“We have friends and family – and Irish hockey fans in general – who are willing to travel thousands upon thousands of miles, spending thousands on thousands of Euro to support us.
“They have been a big part of our journey in Antwerp when we qualified and in Dublin whenever we have matches. They are often the reason why we play the sport when we are kids. We are so proud of them and they are very proud of us. It’s just a big team.”
And he firmly believes that this Irish team can give the supporters more big days out in the future with the talent in the ranks to qualify for more of the world’s major events.
“It’s not a one-off, this is not a fluke. This is what we want to do every time. This team is not finished and we will come back stronger.
“It has been a great experience and I hope it has shown everyone back home that we have a team in Ireland that everyone should be proud of and a sport from which we can come back to Olympics time and time again.
“Hopefully, this has brought us a little bit more mainstream for funding bodies. I really hope this isn’t a once off and I believe in us, pushing us forward and getting better and better.”
Reflecting on the Argentina game itself, the Bangor man said that the side maybe did not hit the same level as previous games in the competition.
“Really disappointed, a little bit frustrated,” he said of the performance. “We got back into the game at 2-2 and then to concede straight away was definitely not the game plan.
“We played ok, not very well and it’s come down to a few key moments and we came out on the wrong side of them.
“We haven’t made the quarter-final which was obviously our goal. We know we can play better and we could definitely have got a result. We all believed it going in. We just struggled early doors and they won corners which they got confidence from.
“We can’t fault our desire – we try, we try, we try. No one can fault us for that but we just have to learn from these things. We are all very proud of each other and unfortunately it has come to an end. We put everything we had into it, played with our hearts on our sleeves.”
And he hopes that the spirit and application to qualify and subsequently earn a first win at the Olympic Games since 1908 will inspire the next generation.
“I am not sure if we are as popular as the O’Donovan brothers but if we had a few more Cork boys doing the interviews, it might help!
“We want people to look at hockey and think if I want to go to the Olympics, I can do it. I can go down my local club or school and get involved.
“We want young kids coming along and pushing us out of the team. I hope it gets as much coverage as it deserves. Everyone who has to come to watch it like Paul McGinley and so on has been loving the atmosphere. We just want to show hockey is a great sport and, hopefully, it gets bigger and bigger.
“We’re not far away. We have got some world class players – you have got to realise that – and sometimes we have got to believe that ourselves. We have guys not just playing in professional leagues but dominating them.
“There are kids at home who can do that as well while we also want to make the Irish league better and better.
“There’s brilliant young players at home who didn’t make this squad who will push everyone on. In hockey, there’s big tournaments every year. We’ve got the Olympics in four years, the World Cup in two years and the Euros next year and we have to start looking forward. We’ve got to qualify for the World Cup.
“We will reflect on this; we don’t just want to come here once; we want to go the World Cup and Olympics every time.”
As for the Olympic experience as a whole? “It’s been a dream. We’ve been looking forward to this not just for a year, not just two years but a lifetime. It’s really sad that it has come to an end… this time.”