Daragh Walsh says the Irish men’s team have already spent six months trying to get their stomachs ready for the World Cup in India in late November.Bhubaneswar, the host city in the east of the country, has already become notorious in hockey circles among European sides with stomach bugs abounding.
Famously, Germany had eight players struck down, leading to goalkeeper Marc Appel being used as an outfielder, scoring against the host nation in the Champions Trophy in 2017 in the same city.
For Ireland, they had similar issues at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, leaving them with a bare 11 available out of 18 for the back end of the tournament.
“We have been on probiotics for the last six months or so, trying to get ourselves as healthy as possible,” Walsh said of the extra challenge ahead of the Irish men’s first World Cup appearance since 1990.
“We will take a lot of hygiene measures over there and it is why we are bringing the two reserves because it is very likely someone will get sick!
“I have been to Malaysia and I would imagine it is not too dissimilar in terms of the climate and hockey is a big sport there. Hopefully, that will stand me in good stead.
“I loved the food and definitely ate a lot of it!”
Head coach Alexander Cox was in Bhubaneswar in 2015, too, as Dutch assistant coach and he admitted that the side will be pretty much on lockdown for three and a half weeks.
During that tournament, hockey.nl ran a story on the provisions the Dutch team had to take to maintain their health. It caused a stir locally who were offended by the measures taken.
“The funny thing was the last tournament I was in India, our doctor became ill. One or two players got ill, too,” Cox said of the issue as European teams struggle with the new environment.
“It’s a massive problem but luckily the FIH, but also Hockey Ireland, are really focused on this and have spoken a lot with the hotels. The hygiene of the food needs to be good. Of course, it’s a concern but we hope its ok.
“What I have learned from the past is you just can’t do anything there. You need to shower, you need to clean your hands with sanitisers the whole day. You can’t eat street food.
“But this team and the staff have a lot of experience so I don’t think it will be a big problem but, still, things can happen.”
It does mean the squad will have little scope to move around the city to limit the chance of getting sick.
“It is absolutely a challenge. With a tournament in Europe on an off day, you can give players some freedom, do some shopping, have a golf day or whatever. That’s not possible there.
“We have to work our way around it because you can’t do anything outside the hotel. You can’t really go for a cup of coffee in Bhubaneswar. The focus will be hockey, the hotel and the stadium but we need to do fun stuff because otherwise, your mind will go crazy!”
Nonetheless, the 21-year-old Walsh is looking forward to playing on the biggest stage of his career to date in front of some fervent crowds instead of doing his winter assignments.“I wasn’t involved in the qualification tournament last year and I knew I wasn’t a cert so it could have gone either way. It’s only my second tournament so I’m buzzing to go.
“College has taken a back seat so far. I will have to defer my exams to next August but it will be worth it!
“This is the first year we have December exams [in Trinity] so they will be postponed. They have been very good to me but I will be sitting them as a repeat and then trying to do as much of my continuous assessment while I am away in India or Spain or wherever it may be.”
The side begin their preparations in earnest on Monday in Valencia where they will play five games in seven days, facing Spain, England and the Netherlands in a four nations tournament.
Elsewhere, Walsh found out Three Rock’s Euro Hockey League fate last week and he is relishing the challenge of taking on Dragons in the EHL KO16 next Easter following an “infamous” 20-10 result in a crossover game last year.
That game featuring the Irish and Belgian champions produced the craziest scorelines of the two-for-one field goals trial and probably played a part in its short-lived use in the EHL.
In normal terms, it would have ended 12-5 which is still a mad scoreline but World Cup-bound Walsh is keen for his side to come closer this time around, especially as he plays his international team mates Shane O’Donoghue and Kirk Shimmins.
“We were obviously part of that infamous game last year,” Walsh said. “It will be good playing two of the Irish lads which will be good. We could have got a more favourable draw but we are all excited, will give it a crack and see what happens.
“They have lost a couple of key players which we know of but there is still have plenty of talent and plenty of internationals. We will certainly still be underdogs but we will give it all we have.”
Looking back on the 20-10 game, there was a stage when Three Rock trailed 17-0 but scored five field goals in 11 minutes to give a little bit of respectability to the scoreline.
Nonetheless, with up to 200 Irish fans making the trip to Rotterdam, their late rally did provide some momentum for their domestic season.
“It was looking pretty bad for us! We all just wanted to be out of there at some stage. Our crowd – we weren’t giving them much to chant for having made the trip over.“I don’t know whether they took the foot off the gas or we stepped it up but we managed to get a few goals which gave us a bit of momentum going into the Irish Senior Cup final the next week so it did give us some confidence.
“I just remember we were out on our feet; we only had 12 or 13 players fit because the lads got a stomach bug. That wasn’t a cause of the 10-goal difference but the lads were wrecked so it didn’t help.”
Having such a support in place, though, did create a special memory for Walsh and he is keen for more of the same at Easter in Eindhoven. Rovers qualified from ROUND1 with a 6-0 win over Racing Club de France and a last-gasp 1-1 with Junior FC, giving them another chance of becoming the first Irish side to reach the KO8.
“That Saint Germain game was one of the best atmospheres I have played in. There were a couple of hundred for both teams; that Harry Morris goal got some of the biggest cheers I have experienced at a hockey game and hopefully they all come out in force again.”