For Jamie Carr, this week’s World Cup qualifier in Cardiff has already proven a significant improvement on August’s European Championships as the Irish goalkeeper looks to make a big impact this week (all games to be streamed live on www.eurohockeytv.org).
The Green Machine take on Russia in their first game on Thursday (4pm, Irish time) with only a win keeping alive their chances of reaching the World Cup in January 2023. Advance and they will meet either Wales or Italy on Saturday for a winner-takes-all showdown for one of the two spot on offer this week from the tournament.
“We’re headed in the right direction for sure,” Carr said ahead of the tournament this week. “We have checked all the boxes before the tournament, made sure everything was covered and the lads are raring to go.
“We have learned a lot over the last year from the last qualifiers through the Euros this summer. We are ready to put right our shortcomings in the past and put a big performance in.”
Indeed, the team have all reported present and correct in the Welsh capital, something of a relief for the panel who were beset by close contact cases for those Euros in Poland.
In the end, despite no positive tests, two of the initially named squad had to stay at home after close-contact pings while Carr and Luke Madeley ended up stuck in a Gniezno hotel room for 10 days, only venturing outdoors on their day of arrival and departure in Poland.
“Someone had entered the flight without a PCR test or vaccine; when they arrived in Poland, they tested positive,” the goalkeeper explains of the nightmare scenario.
“At first, our whole squad was deemed a close contact [and had to stay indoors] until we confirmed who were fully vaccinated. Luke and I were the only ones who didn’t have our second vaccinations so we had to self-isolate for the full 10 days.”
It meant a frustrating watching brief for the duo who currently play with KHC Leuven in Belgium following a hugely successful spell with Three Rock Rovers, winning three successive EY Champions Trophies.
“Watching the lads play was a nightmare! Game days were stressful and unenjoyable! Of course, we were fully supporting the lads but it was difficult seeing them out there, knowing you should be too, testing negative a thousand times, putting that hard work to the test. It’s just life sometimes.
“I tried to give input into team meetings from watching the video clips and help the defenders, give them tips as if I was out on the pitch.”
Nonetheless, it offered a rare opportunity to see the tactical game in a different light: “Watching it that way [stuck in a hotel room], you can take the emotion out of it and see the bigger picture.
“I [usually] only see things from the goal from one perspective and can’t see the whole picture. I was able to gain an insight the lads wouldn’t have when we chatted about it while they could also feel something [on the pitch] which I hadn’t noticed in the heat of the moment. You can gain that perspective.”
It’s not a perspective he is willing to try out too often, though, and since that tournament, he has hit the ground running with Leuven.
His club coach Xavi Trenchs is a former Spanish international goalkeeper and recently publicly sung his praises, saying in the Belgian press: “he has everything to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world”.
Carr – along with Irish team mates Daragh Walsh, Madeley and Sean Murray – have helped the club sit third in the Honor Division. That form is timely for Ireland between the posts with David Harte working his way back from injury sustained in the spring.
And Carr says getting such high quality games in the league of World and Olympic champions has been a massive boost.
“There is only so much training you can do; you need to be under the kosh every weekend, playing top level games and it has helped me personally to transition over to the Irish team more easily. The travel is busy but it is all worth it in the end!”
That travel has seen him play each Sunday and then take Monday morning red-eye flights back to Dublin for the past four weeks for Irish sessions.
Now it is time to finally put it all into practice with no margin for error in Cardiff. Wins on Thursday and Saturday bring a World Cup spot; anything else and that is off the table.
“It’s refreshing in a way to not have a group stage, straight knock-out, to focus the mind. You have to win at all costs and there’s no time to build into the tournament so we have to hit the ground running. We can’t afford to start slow. This one has been in the back of our minds for months now and so we’re excited to get going!”
Ireland men’s squad for World Cup qualifiers (club/caps)
Jamie Carr (GK, KHC Leuven, 34)
Mark Ingram (GK, Pembroke, 27)
Tom Cross (Annadale, 22)
Luke Madeley (KHC Leuven, 23)
Lee Cole (Monkstown, 90)
Conor Harte (KHC Dragons, 254)
Peter McKibbin (Lisnagarvey, 8)
Kyle Marshall (Old Georgians, 7)
Shane O’Donoghue (Glenanne, 197)
Sean Murray (captain, KHC Leuven, 85)
Neal Glassey (Crefelder HTC, 67)
Daragh Walsh (KHC Leuven, 58)
Michael Robson (Annadale, 120)
Johnny McKee (Banbridge, 49)
Conor Empey (SCHC, 2)
Sam Hyland (YMCA, 2)
Ben Walker (Braxgata, 42)
Jeremy Duncan (Monkstown, 63)
Matthew Nelson (Lisnagarvey, 69)
Kevin O’Dea (UCD, 7)
Head Coach: Mark Tumilty
Assistant coach: Jason Klinkradt
Manager: Neil Irwin
Physical trainer: Eoin Cunniffe
Physio: Cameron Steele
Video technician: Ross Willis
FIH Men’s World Cup 2023 – European qualifier (Cardiff, October 21-24, 2021)
Thursday, October 21: Ireland v Russia, 4pm
Saturday, October 23: semi-final
Sunday, October 24: final/classification matches
** Full tournament information here: https://tms.fih.ch/competitions/1361