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From Rio to Croker, today is going to be a huge day for the Harte family

Twins Conor and David spearhead Ireland’s Olympic hockey bid while, back home, Mickey eyes a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals for Tyrone.

pjimage-2 Irish hockey internationals Conor (top) and David Harte, and Tyrone manager Mickey Harte (right).

– Niall Kelly reports from Rio de Janeiro

THERE’S MORE THAN 5,500 miles between the Olympic Hockey Centre and Croke Park but when the clock strikes 3pm this afternoon, one Irish family will be hoping to make its presence felt in Rio de Janeiro as much as on Jones’ Road.

GAA was always a part of life for Cork twins Conor and David Harte growing up, but it was a different kind of small ball that really caught their imagination in their teenage years.

When Ireland’s hockey team take to the field for their opening match at the Olympic Games, it will be the culmination of a dream which has taken the Hartes 10 years and a combined  359 caps.

Not since we sent a basketball team to London in 1948 has Ireland been represented in a team sport at the Olympics, and for the country’s passionate hockey community, the wait has been even longer; our last Olympic hockey match was back in 1908.

Two wins from five games might well be enough to see ‘the Green Machine’ out of a tough group and into the quarter-finals, and their task begins in earnest this afternoon when they take on India, ranked fifth in the world.

But while the Harte twins focus on getting their campaign off to the best possible start, their dad Kieran’s cousin, Mickey Harte, will try to mastermind the next phase of Tyrone’s All-Ireland offensive.

Harte’s influence on Tyrone football is undeniable, and his sporting philosophy has transferred to the next generation as well. His adopted credo of “As you think, so you shall be” is mirrored in the “No Excuses” mantra that backboned the hockey team’s qualification bid after agonising near-misses in 2008 and again in 2012.

“It’s funny, he’s such an unassuming man when you meet him but so driven,” David said after Mickey paid a visit to the Irish team camp and spoke to them ahead before their departure for Rio.

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“As soon as he mentions sport there’s a switch in him, his eyes, and you can see the passion he has. That gave us all some inspiration.”

Harte’s Tyrone side are no strangers to the last eight of the championship — this is their sixth quarter-final in eight years since they last lifted Sam Maguire in 2008 — but rarely have they faced a side of Mayo’s calibre so early in August.

The first of the Croke Park double-headers throws in at 4pm, just as the hockey reaches its climax in Rio’s Deodoro suburb. By 5.45pm, it might just have been a very special day for the Hartes, near and far.

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Niall Kelly

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