New coach Mark Tumilty says it is crucial to get the Irish men’s side back playing with a smile on their face for the helter-skelter six-week preparation phase for the Olympic qualifiers in west Vancouver against Canada.
The Banbridge man got the call from Hockey Ireland with his appointment confirmed last week. He will take charge of his first training camp next weekend as he looks to sharply turn around the side’s fortunes.
He takes over following Alexander Cox’s decision to step away from the job in the wake of the European Championship relegation, leaving a short turnaround time for those qualifiers but the former Banbridge boss says “the raw materials” are all in place to turn things around quickly.
“We need to play with a belief again, believe in our own ability and play on the front foot,” he told The Hook following his appointment.
“Hopefully my key skills will be in the man-management side to bring the players together. If we can get the enjoyment going – there has to be fun – and play with a smile on our face, we will go to Canada and perform.
“The raw materials are there; we do need to change our style a bit. I probably have a different playing style to a lot of other coaches which I think will be enjoyable for the players. Anyone who has seen Banbridge play over the last few years will say we played an attractive brand of hockey and that is something I want to pass on.”
Tumilty takes on the role after a hugely successful club career, winning, among other things, two Irish Hockey League and two Irish Senior Cup crowns with Bann.
He stepped away from that role during the summer and had planned to develop his coaching by working with other sports before the call from Hockey Ireland’s high performance manager Adam Grainger came.
“When I stepped away [from Banbridge], it was probably more for the good of the team. It had been nine years with the same voice and so maybe they needed a different voice.
“I had planned to step away and then focus on developing a bit of my own coaching and also spend some time with other sports was my goal. But when the opportunity arises to coach the national team, it is something that I couldn’t refuse. Did I ever want to do the national job? Absolutely! Did I ever think I would get a chance? Probably not.”
Tumilty – who was capped several times for Ireland – has has not previously coached an Irish underage coaching role but, crucially, Tumilty says the Olympic qualifiers is not like international hockey’s usual 10-day format.
“The one thing is we are not going into tournament hockey; I don’t have that tournament experience. But I know double-header weekends and that is what this is. It will be a huge step up but I have done well with the Euro Hockey League and club championship environment.”
Helping him on the experience-end of things will be Jason Lee, a man with five Olympic Games under his belt, three as a coach, two as a player. Their paths crossed briefly before at Loughborough when Lee was coach and Tumilty a player for a semester.
They will have a two camps in Ireland in addition to away games against European champions Belgium and France on the agenda.
Working together, Tumilty is looking forward to the challenge of taking down Canada, pointing out that they too lost 3-1 to Wales this year. With the requisite motivation of a ticket to Tokyo on the line, he says there is experience and know-how in the camp to do something special once again.
“When I watch the top sides, it is about having the ball. We have got to get back to attacking, having the ball. Alexander Cox is one of the best coaches in world hockey – it obviously didn’t work out with him and Irish hockey but I am sure the guys still learned a lot from him and Kai [de Jager].
“There are still positives in there that we can bring out in the next six weeks. The group has been so successful in the last decade, moving Irish hockey forward and there is another big challenge in this group.
“It’s a huge challenge but we have a big chance against Canada.”