Safely installed in Vancouver, new Irish coach Mark Tumilty says the Irish men’s squad are bubbling up nicely for their two-legged Olympic qualifier against Canada.
They had their first training sessions on the event’s Rutledge Field from Wednesday after a weekend based at University of British Columbia.
With an Olympic place at stake, Ireland men's hockey captain David Harte looks ahead to the pivotal two-legged qualifier against Canada this weekend – You can watch live on @RTENewsNow and @RTEplayer. Games are underway 10pm Sat and 9pm Sun @irishhockey pic.twitter.com/hsifvFw2VP
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) October 23, 2019
The double-header will be Tumilty’s first competitive ties since taking over from Alexander Cox who resigned following European relegation in August. It has been a helter-skelter acclimatisation for the coach since then, putting a plan in place for their potential ticket to Tokyo.
As such, to help get things in place the former Banbridge boss has been working with Jason Lee who he says has been a big addition to the camp to date.
Lee brings a huge bank of knowledge having played in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics before coaching Great Britain for four Games.
“He’s been to six Olympic Games and understands what it takes to get there. He mixes well with the group and has the right personality,” Tumilty said.
“The real positive is we both see the game in the same way – I enjoy working with him and his knowledge will be vital over these 10 days.
“He definitely understands the Irish mentality. His wife [Laura Lee] played 30 times for the country so he knows the mindset and sees a lot of potential.”
Crucial to that is rebuilding the spirit the side were famous for on their rise to the world’s top 10 and 2016 qualification.
That veneer has been chipped away in the last 12 months with the body language at the Euros particularly low-key. As such, Tumilty has put a big store in team-building over the last four weeks with cycling days out in Bordeaux and weekend bonding trips in Vancouver to an ice hockey match and away from the field.
“It has to be fun and that will translate onto the pitch,” Tumilty said from their base. “We are not in holiday mode here but I have been impressed with the team spirit and the lads are good like that with their work ethic.”
On the pitch, two test match wins over higher-ranked France in Bordeaux provided a positive start while Tumilty was not overly concerned by a 6-0 loss to reigning world and European champions Belgium in their final warm-up game.
“It’s not hard to see why they are world number one, winning world and European championships. They were pretty clinical, scoring four out of five corners.
“A few things didn’t fall for us and there were positive signs from it. Our focus was on the Canada game so I thought it was a decent exercise and we are making progress – definitely worth the game.”
Eugene Magee was rested for that tie as he attempts to comeback from his hamstring injury while Michael Robson and Matthew Nelson also stepped out due to a double-header in the German league just before the tie.
Now they look forward to the final run-in to the games themselves at Rutledge. That turf was only laid six weeks ago and so will be something of an unknown factor for both sides in terms of pace.
There is also no real concept yet about what size crowd will be in attendance but suggestions are it will not be an imposing one with the Canadian website offering discounted rates for the first 500 tickets sold last week.
The hosts do have a decent mole named in their camp in Brad Logan – a South African by birth but recently qualified as Canadian via his mother – having worked with Tumilty at Banbridge in the 2015/16 season.
Whether that will have any relevance for Tumilty’s tactical plan is unlikely with several big changes to the Euros panel with a greater attacking emphasis and a focus on more penalty corner variations.
It means a limited bank of video research to work off. On the flip side, the Irish boss feels they have plenty done on a settled Canadian side, though they will miss key man Mark Pearson due to a cruciate knee ligament injury.
“We’ve watched lots of video; they are an experienced group, rely a lot on corners and are probably similar in make-up to ourselves. There is plenty of knowledge from playing against each other a lot.”
Ireland’s matches with Canada will be played at 10pm (Irish time) next Saturday and 9pm on Sunday with the best aggregate total from the two games deciding the Olympic ticket.
Both games will be broadcast live on BBC Northern Ireland’s website – with commentary from Nigel Ringland and Stephen Martin – and on the RTE Player.