Irish men’s indoor coach Kenny Carroll is thrilled to see the country make its long-awaited return to international action, believing the code to be a key method of developing the sport locally and beyond.
When they take to the court in Santander against Wales, it will be a first international indoor tie for the country since 1987 in Loughlinstown.
Carroll has been a long-term practitioner of the short-form of the game, playing for Railway Union in Euro club action five times, but admitted he “never thought this would come around”.
“Obviously the focus has been on outdoor hockey at a high performance level with Olympic qualification but, in 2018, the board of Hockey Ireland made the decision to enter the next Euros for men and women.
“Looking through the archives, the last time Ireland’s men played indoors was Loughlinstown in 1987. We actually never entered the Europeans before despite having a team so this is the 19th edition of the continental championships, dating back to 1974, and the first time Ireland have been in it so it’s great to be involved in.”
While Ireland do not feature on the European Hockey Federation’s official results archive, they did, however, play plenty of top line fixtures prior to the cessation. This included some fine showings in Edinburgh in 1979, taking on West Germany(lost 5-17), Denmark (won 5-3 ) and Scotland (then ranked third in Europe, falling 3-2.
They would also play against the likes of England, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy, France, Austria and Wales in subsequent editions. They achieved a bronze medal in 1987 at an event in Mechelen in Belgium which featured most of the second tier nations in Europe at the time.
Carroll is also a regional development officer for Hockey Ireland and says that it is a format to be embraced to bolster the sport and is delighted at its increased status locally.
“I personally feel in Ireland and worldwide, if you are going to grow the game, you have to do it through indoor hockey.
“It’s great getting new [astro outdoor] pitches laid but it will never be a groundbreaking number. What we do have all over is indoor sports halls.
“In bad weather, you can always play. In new schools, new areas which maybe don’t have a hockey tradition, it’s so much easier to start up.
“During the game, you have more decisions to make, really good for your personal skills and it can help young players understand tactics a bit more. As a development tool it is brilliant but also as a player development tool.
“Germany have shown through the decades via the high level of player they have produced [with an indoor focus] and it is no surprise Belgium and the Netherlands are following their lead, allocating time to the indoor game.
“Leinster Hockey have allocated [extra] days to indoor and the clubs can buy into that. In the other provinces, if they could do that, clubs will be able to commit to it.”
Indeed, Carroll says the success of “non-traditional” countries in big events shows how a bit of dedication to the art can go a long way. Iran are recent World Cup bronze medalists; Kazakhstan and Trinidad & Tobago have made their mark while Swedish club Partille are the reigning European club indoor champs.
Extrapolating down, Carroll says this is an example of what can be achieved with limited resources and his personal view is the FIH should start to align their Hockey5s plans to incorporate far more facets of indoor.
“Smaller schools and smaller clubs get a chance; you don’t need as big a squad and the number of players is smaller. Internationally, I think indoor is what they need to focus on to grow the game.
“The FIH has spoken about aligning 5s and indoor a bit more. Obviously, if they want to do that, they need to make Hockey5s into Hockey6s and take the rules from indoor and put them on an outdoor field.
“Six works so much better than five in terms of your passing options, space and so on. When indoor went to five, there was too much space and teams then went too defensive.”
For the Euros, Carroll has picked a side with a good deal of know-how despite the lack of indoor international ties. Brendan Parsons, now 40, has played in five European club events alongside Carroll with Railway while Three Rock’s Ross Canning – whose father Liam played in the last indoor internationals in 1987 – Harry Morris and Mark English have a similar body of knowledge.
Former Zimbabwean international Rowland Rixon-Fuller, a long-time resident in Ireland, has his papers in order to make the switch to line out.
John Jackson won a trio of English championships with Loughborough in the past; his protégé from Mossley, Neal Glassey, is receiving a fast-track education from Crefelder HTC, scoring last weekend in the Bundesliga.
Their club commitments abroad have impacted their availability to squad sessions with the Irish team, something Carroll was aware of in advance but is content due to the standard of season they will take in. Glassey’s club mates Michael and Callum Robson also have had some schooling at Crefeld in the indoor arts.
“The reality is you will never have an ideal preparation but we haven’t done too badly. But you can’t really say we are going to aim for this position or whatever because we don’t know the opposition.
“Obviously they don’t know us which is a huge advantage. We are preparing well and we have a good warm-up game against Three Rock this week which is important. It’s a five-team round-robin with playoffs on the last day for the medals for the top four so get there and we play for a medal.”
Ireland Men Indoor Squad – Santander January 17th- 19th 2020 EuroHockey Indoor Championship III: Ross Canning (Three Rock Rovers), Mark English (Three Rock Rovers), Neal Glassey (Crefelder THC – Germany), John Jackson (captain, Team Bath Buccaneers – England), Jason Lynch (vice captain, Monkstown), Harry Morris (Three Rock Rovers), Stephen O’Keeffe (GK, Railway Union), Brendan Parsons (Railway Union), Rowland Rixon Fuller (Glenanne), Callum Robson (Crefelder THC – Germany), Michael Robson (Crefelder THC – Germany), Stephen West (GK, Team Bath Buccaneers – England)
Non travelling Reserves: Eoin MacArthur (Railway Union), Mark Crooks (Cookstown)
Head Coach: Kenny Carroll
Assistant Coach/Analyst: Craig Stewart
Manager: Rob Abbott
Physio: Huw Rees
Fixtures (all times CET):
Friday, January 17: Ireland v Wales, 12pm; Ireland v Scotland, 6pm
Saturday, January 18: Ireland v Spain, 12.15pm; Ireland v Slovenia, 5.40pm
Sunday, January 19: Classification matches