After 33 years wait, the Irish men’s indoor side finally return to action on Friday with a double-header against Wales (11am) and Scotland (5pm) in Santander in the EuroHockey Championships III.
Quite where they stand will only become apparent as the tournament goes along but captain John Jackson says the side Is “raring to go and the lads are chomping at the bit”.
After the devastation of October’s Olympic qualifiers, John Jackson is extremely grateful to have a quickly get back into action in an Irish shirt and attempt to heal some of the wounds from Vancouver.
With precious little outdoor action on the horizon in 2020 for the Green Machine, the 33-year-old is thrilled to captain the Irish indoor side that will play in the EuroHockey Championships II in Santander next week.
Jackson was just a year old the last time Ireland competed internationally indoors before the Irish Hockey Union decided to halt its involvement in the six-a-side form of the game.
Since then, the Belfast native has been one of the masters of the code in England, winning three championships with Loughborough University, often in front of crowds of over 5,000 in Wembley arena, as well as playing in European club tournaments in Russia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
He also reached the final four regularly with Reading and then player-coached rank outsiders Bath Buccaneers to the 2018 final with Irish team mate Stephen West in goals.
It is something he has a real passion for but lining out in green was something he thought was set to pass him by.
“When I heard the like of Rob Abbott and Kenny Carroll were putting this together [in 2018], I got straight on the phone,” Jackson said. “This is something I have been hoping and looking forward to since I started playing and was desperate to be involved.
Preparations underway this evening in Santander as the Indoor Men tune up for the Euros starting on Friday with matches against Wales and Scotland pic.twitter.com/h5HDRUy6yY
— Irish Hockey (@irishhockey) January 15, 2020
“Pulling on the green shirt again is something I always relish but is a new and exciting challenge, particularly given how the last few months have gone.”
That is a reference to how his Tokyo dreams with the outdoor squad went up in smoke in horrific fashion, a hotly contested final second video referral denying them victory over Canada.
For Jackson, he says that having the indoor Euros to look forward to has been cathartic for him and, potentially, for the men’s game in general in the country.
“I hope it will be part of something much bigger; I really don’t want it to be a flash in the pan or a one-off. I hope it will grow and become a bigger part of our calendar and younger kids will aspire to be part of it.
“It was always something on my radar and was something spoken about long before the Olympic qualifiers in Canada, something I wanted to be involved with. Had we qualified, whatever the preparation we had, this is something I would have asked the coach that I could be involved with, no matter if we had a warm-weather training camp or whatever. It is something I wanted for years.
“Following some reflection, I thought this was something really good that my next involvement with Irish hockey will help the men’s game recover from a hugely disappointing October.
“This is a chance for all of us to restart and hopefully be part of something which becomes much bigger and do something better than what we have done before. It’s a fresh start in a fresh decade.”
With over 200 outdoor caps, Jackson is the best known name in an eclectic panel named by coach Carroll.
Former Zimbabwean captain Rowland Rixon-Fuller has his papers in order having lived in Leinster for over a decade. Neal Glassey was Jackson’s indoor protégé at Mossley and has impressed in recent weeks in the German league – the best club competition in the world – scoring for Crefelder HTC.
Michael and Callum Robson have also had an education in the code at that German club. Ross Canning, meanwhile, has been Three Rock Rovers’ star man in their recent run of dominance of the Irish scene. His father Liam was part of the last international teams back in the 80s..
40-year-old Brendan Parsons is an indoor specialist who has not played outdoors for a number of years while Bandon man Jason Lynch is the sole Munster man included.
They will take on hosts Spain, Scotland, Wales and Slovenia in the tournament which starts on Friday, January 17th.
Jackson recognises a few names from the Scottish and Welsh line-ups but, in reality, form guides are anyone’s guess.
“We are probably the most unknown and none of them will have any info on us! The beauty of indoor is it’s a much more structured game and has much fewer moving parts. With only a handful of players, it can come together a lot quicker than an outdoor setup can and hopefully we can turn a few heads!
“The only thing we really know is a few of the names of the Scottish and Welsh teams who have been around the circuit. Stephen Dick has played a hell of a lot of indoor for Scotland; Joey Naughalty for Wales and Ioan Wall who played in the outdoor Euros. Spain are reasonably inexperienced so it is completely unknown.”
Top spot will earn promotion to the second tier in Europe.
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), Michael Robson (Crefelder THC), Stephen West (GK, Team Bath Buccaneers)
EuroHockey Indoor Championships III (all in Santander, times Irish):
Friday: Ireland v Wales, 11am; Ireland v Scotland, 5pm
Saturday: Ireland v Spain, 11.25am; Ireland v Slovenia, 4.40pm
Sunday: classification matches