Mickey Harte, Joe Schmidt and Rory McIlroy part of the Irish hockey team's Rio preparations

Craig Fulton named his 16-man squad for the Olympics yesterday as the final countdown begins.

THE IRISH HOCKEY team have been picking the brains of some of the country’s leading sports personalities ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Michael Watt, Timothy Cockram and John Jermyn celebrates with goalscorer Chris Cargo Ireland are preparing to make history. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Mickey Harte, Joe Schmidt and Rory McIlroy have all met with Craig Fulton’s side as they prepare for next month’s Games.

Ireland open their Olympic campaign against India on 6 August and in doing so will become the first side to represent the country at a team sport since 1948.

As the on-field preparations have intensified over recent weeks, no stone is being left unturned to ensure the players are mentally ready for the challenges which lie ahead.

The squad, which was cut down to 16 yesterday, have been working closely with a sports physiologist and have been able to speak to the likes of Harte, Schmidt, McIlroy, Olive Loughnane and three-time Olympian Eoin Rheinisch.

Tyrone manager Harte, who is a second cousin of captain David Harte, offered his advice recently — a chat the players took great inspiration from.

“Only a couple of weeks ago, myself and my brother along with the rest of the group met with him [Mickey Harte] in Carton House,” Harte said yesterday.

“We had quite a week actually. We had just met Rory McIlroy fresh off his Irish Open success and then Mickey Harte came to talk to us and then we had Joe Schmidt at one of our fundraising dinners so we were spoilt for choice.

“We spoke with Mickey at length. It had nothing to do with hockey or Gaelic football but just generally how you handle yourself, body language, how you approach games, nerves and things like that.

“It was funny. He’s such an unassuming man when you meet him but so driven and 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 will lead from the front in Rio and is one of five of the panel plying their trade professionally. Indeed, the majority are vastly experienced at international level but the Olympic Games provides an entirely different proposition. 

“Maybe I’m just being ignorant but I don’t have a clue [what to expect] because we’ve no prior experience,” Harte, who is the number one goalkeeper in the world, admitted.

“We can only look at it in a positive way and that it’s an incredibly exciting period, which is how I’m looking at it.

“Whether or not that changes when we’re over there I’m not entirely sure but we’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a sports physiologist and the different sports people.

“It’s fascinating to hear their insightful on how to go about dealing with that.”

Yesterday’s squad announcement was another significant juncture on the road to Rio and now the 16 players – and three travelling reserves – can begin to fully focus on the job in hand.

Electric Ireland Team Ireland Hockey #ThePowerWithin David Harte, Shane O’Donoghue and Eugene Magee launched Electric Ireland's #ThePowerWithin campaign ahead of Rio. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

A short training camp in Argentina and a couple of games against the hosts is all that lies between now and the day the players have dreamt about.

After the team secured qualification before Christmas, the build-up has dragged but the serious business is just beginning.

“It’s the first stepping stone of the dream that is Rio,” Eugene Magee continued.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s dragged out since Christmas, it feels like it’s dragged out for about four years. Since 2012, that’s been the aim since then.

“All training with a goal to the Olympics and yes we’ve had major stepping stones along the way, a bronze medal at the European competition, everything is just a stepping stone and this was our biggest target – the Olympic Games.

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“It’s not a matter of going over and just showing up. It’s a matter of going over and competing and that’s what it is all about. Everyone on our team are selected on that basis and on that mindset – they’re a competitor.”

Ireland have been dealt an incredibly tough hand with Olympic champions Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Canada and India providing formidable opposition in Group B.

Getting to this point has required serious dedication, sacrifice and a determination to defy the limited resources and achieve the Olympic dream.

Craig Fulton Coach Craig Fulton. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Players have put their lives on hold for the last number of months with the extended squad training full-time in anticipation for the biggest tournament of their respective careers.

“A lot of our team have full-time jobs, mortgages, some even have kids to take care of,” Magee, who is a software developer and currently on a career break, explained.

“It’s a major sacrifice in that sense that you have to take out all of that to concentrate on one goal but if you have to concentrate on one goal sporting wise why not the Olympics because it is the pinnacle for us.”

Harte added: “Hockey in Ireland is a minority sport, it is what it is. There are no excuses behind that but we flipped it on its head and instead of seeing it as a challenge we saw it as an opportunity to break the mould of being the nearly men and actually qualify for a major tournament.

“And hopefully now we can change a lot of people’s views and opinions of hockey within Ireland and maybe create much more hype and buzz around the sport.”

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Ryan Bailey

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