While Mark Tumilty only dropped the “interim” part of his title of Irish men’s head coach this week, the former Banbridge boss has already laid plenty of groundwork for his tenure, assessing almost 70 potential players to date.
Current restrictions notwithstanding, Tumilty is keen to scour all options and he strongly believes there is a wealth of talent to tap into ahead of a potentially busy 2021 with August’s European Championships and the lead up to the World Cup qualifiers.
He took on the role “out of the blue” for the infamous Olympic qualifiers in Canada last October before agreeing to continue in the interim role, knowing the post would be re-advertised to align with the original end date of Tokyo 2020.
Tumilty duly was successful in the interview process and can now progress further with his initial plans put in place on a more secure basis, though he does say it changes things slightly.
“It adds a bit more pressure,” he says of losing the ‘interim’ status. “It’s a role which once I got involved, I was very keen to hold onto. Hopefully the work I have done over the last six months, the players grasp what I am trying to do and hopefully the club coaches can also see what I am trying to do – they have a very important role.”
Given the opening and shutting of lockdown, it has been a case of day-by-day and week-by-week to get things in place. Leinster and Ulster regional sessions were back up and running by June while Tumilty is delighted to see a David Hobbs-led Munster group of 16 players introduced from August.
“I want to see Munster treated like everyone else and give the same exposure because there is definitely talent. Kevin O’Dea is in the senior squad and has been excellent and there are other guys like Mark Collins and Jack O’Meara who are both in the Under-19 squad but have been training with us and do not look out of their depth.”
He sees a strong southern province as an imperative is to get a far wider range of players involved in high performance hockey, something achieved under Paul Revington who capped almost 35 players in one calendar year.
More recently, this has been evident with the women’s Irish Under-23 squad able to put in bigger programmes with more funding secured, providing more stepping stones to rise the ranks.
“We need to look at more players and give them more exposure to a high performance environment. We come out of Under-18s, have a bit of a break then [the men’s] Under-21s was just a short few months in the summer and then guys drop out and we lose them.
“We have to work with them consistently. The Ulster and Leinster groups are every fortnight on alternate weekends so I can attend both. The guys there will have all the necessary support, their S&C, their physio, their nutrition looked after.
“I definitely see the talent is there. There are some players who, to be honest, weren’t on my radar – or even many other coach’s radars – and there’s guys who were in university across the water and there’s a few lads we haven’t been able to see yet because of Covid.
“We are really pleased with Munster and have involved five of that group with the main Sunday groups. It’s creating the pathway from regional to Sunday sessions and then try to get into the main squads, get caps and then fight for [tournament] selection.”
International friendlies will not be possible for the forseeable future, a big drawback which leaves the coach unable to test players out in competitive settings, particularly with no EY Hockey League action.
As such, he is harking back to his days as an international player under Cees Koppelaar who set up fiercely fought in-house games with official umpires and designated coaches.
“It’s in-house and a cheap way of getting exposure to high standard stuff in the current environment.
“It’s good contact with the guys because it is difficult for them not having competitive games. Club hockey is very important to them and is very important to me but circumstances are working against it this season.
“The league is key; it’s what I watch every Saturday to see who is coming through. I have added a few players from there recently; like I am impressed with Mark Samuel having seen the Irish Senior Cup final and the UCD game against Monkstown.
“He has joined the Leinster regional squad and there will be others based on [club] games. It’s a key element for the senior programme. Guys have to be playing well with their clubs; you can’t ‘just’ be good at international level. There is a conversation about club and international not being the same thing but the best players in the world are all brilliant for their clubs as well.
“Obviously, it would be better if Covid went away and we could get some games and give the young players exposure to international hockey.
“But every session we have at the moment is possibly one more than the teams around us and we are making good progress. They are progressing physically and I am pleased with what we have been able to do.”