New Irish coaches have injected renewed positivity into the squad ahead of final Olympic qualifiers
Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh in Vancouver on behalf of Hockey Ireland
Team morale was the one of the first issues tackled by Ireland’s new coaching team as they prepared their team to face the final Olympic qualifiers, head coach Mark Tumilty has revealed.
Tumilty, the senior men’s interim head coach, was speaking from the team’s base in Vancouver, where preparations are ramping up for their winner-takes-all qualifiers this weekend.
Along with assistant coach Jason Lee, an Olympic veteran himself, Tumilty was appointed to the senior men’s role last month, following Alexander Cox’s decision to depart after Ireland’s relegation from the top tier of European hockey.
Now, after spending some time working with the squad, Tumilty believes the team’s positivity has been restored.
“The first thing was to try and turn the squad morale around which hasn’t been a massive challenge”, he said.
“We were very open. We reflected on that with the group. It was their feedback. Then we moved it forward from there. I think as well the fact that we’ve brought guys in to play in their own positions has increased that and improved that morale.
“We hope we’ve got over that. We’ll soon see on Saturday if we’ve gotten over it, but I believe we have. I believe there’s a focus there. We’ve moved on.”
The Irish senior men’s team will be hoping to appear at back-to-back Olympics for the first time ever, having qualified in 2016 for the first time since 1908.
Standing in their way is Canada and 120 minutes of hockey spread over two days.
“What are we expecting from Canada this week? I think it’ll be difficult”, says Tumilty. “We’ve identified their style of play. We understand what their strengths are. Hopefully we understand what their weaknesses are.
“They’ve plenty of experience, the same as ourselves. But I think if we can apply ourselves and execute our game plan, we’ve got, hopefully, a great opportunity.”
Tumilty comes to the Ireland role after most recently being head coach of Banbridge senior men’s team for nine years, while assistant Jason Lee has taken part in the last six Olympic Games both as a player and a coach.
They join a squad of players made up of both old guard and new, including 10 players from the Rio Games in 2016. For the younger squad members, the desire to get that experience themselves will be a huge driving factor over the two legs.
“It’s a special shirt to wear. I think all the players recognise that. As I say, the opportunity to represent your country at the highest level of sport – the Olympic Games – is something that there shouldn’t need to be a lot of motivation [for]. I shouldn’t have to say too much in the changing room before the game.”