Fulton exits to guard of honour after ground-breaking tenure with the Green Machine

Men’s senior international test match
Ireland 3 (S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue, A Sothern) France 0
Craig Fulton was given a suitable send-off as three goals in the closing 17 minutes saw Ireland beat France for a second day in succession at the Mardyke.

Stu Loughrey’s tap in started the run before Shane O’Donoghue whipped in a corner shot. Alan Sothern slotted home the third with a few minutes to go to crown a productive weekend.

David Harte was at his imperious best on numerous occasions before Ireland cut loose. Loughrey’s goal came following John Jackson’s lovely incursion down the left flank, playing in Sothern who popped across to the full-back whose shot just cleared the line.

O’Donoghue nailed his fifth of the weekend, bringing his total to 87 all told and six off John Jermyn’s record. At the end, O’Donoghue was given a big shove but still slipped a ball off to Sothern to flick home.

For Fulton, it was the final act of his reign which brought an unprecedented period of success, yielding a maiden European bronze medal and ending long waits for Olympic and World Cup qualification, beating many higher-ranked sides in the process.

As such, he told The Hook afterward the past few weeks was a weird experience, attempting to continue the building blocks for November’s World Cup while knowing he would not be the man to lead them there.

The day started with “a great talk and some nice slides and video of the journey” the side has gone on and ended with a final team talk, saying: “back yourselves and I will see you on the other side”.

“I am an emotional guy and that’s what drives me. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. It has been a difficult weekend but a very proud one.

“We did still have a job to do today; it was a tough series. John Jermyn’s day on Thursday was a special occasion then we hit the ground running this weekend with a bigger squad.

“Me and the staff here were so involved this week in trying to leave things better than when we started. We covered all those bases and as I exit, I sleep easy that everything is where it should be.”

Since he announced his surprise move, the public proclamations from the players have been universally respectful and fulsome in their praise of the South African.

And that carried through to his departure from the pitch as the players formed a guard of honour. That he is the second coach of the last three – along with Paul Revington – to receive such treatment, though, is indicative of Ireland’s place on the food chain.

The nature of the job is such that high performance will attract the interest of bigger fish while also draws a focus on the shortcomings of the job with exterior, non-hockey elements involved.

In an increasingly professional realm, Fulton’s ability to manage the unique blend of workers, students and pros and design programmes to suit was a key asset.

Having someone of his dedication to buy into it and use it as a positive to mould a fearsome team ethic is rare and something the replacement will have to take on with relish.

Fulton acknowledges as much, saying that it is probably the crucial part of the role, getting enough time with the players as their talent is on a par with many top ten sides.

“They just need to confirm the programme and make sure everyone is available due to work,” he said when asked what advice he would give to anyone taking on the job.

“Work conflicts are the biggest challenge for this group now. You don’t want anyone on unpaid leave who can’t commit!

“When the new head coach does come in, I would say to them ‘absolutely embrace it, give it everything. You are a very lucky man to work with people like this’.”

To that end, the coming days will probably see several more players take up professional contracts in the Netherlands and Belgium in addition to those already confirmed.

The advent of the Hockey Pro League makes Irish players much more attractive with, for example, Argentinians, Spanish, New Zealanders and Australians less useful due to a potential clash of schedules. Ireland are the best-ranked side not in that competition and so offer the best ratio of ability to availability.

For November’s World Cup, meanwhile, Fulton suggests that the organisation of the side can be done “in-house” with the body of knowledge in the playing staff and the assistants Jonny Caren, Kai de Jager and John Bessell.

His contract with Belgium starts on Monday now that assistant coach Philippe Goldberg has finished up in the wake of their Champions Trophy fifth position.

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, M Nelson, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, J McKee, M Darling, M Robson, P Gleghorne, C Harte, L Cole
Subs: M Bell, A Sothern, N Glassey, S Murray, J Duncan, S Loughrey, J Carr

France: A Thieffry, J-L Kieffer, T Genestet, V Lockwood, C Masson, N Dumont, G Baumgarten, F Goyet, C Peters-Deutz, E Tynevez, V Charlet
Subs: M Branicki, A Ferec, P van Straaten, B Rogeau, A Bellenger, A Coisne, C Saunier

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