Tumilty Looking Towards International Stage this Summer

With some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Irish men’s coach Mark Tumilty is looking forward to finally unleashing some young guns onto the international stage following almost a 20-month wait.

The last outings for the side were October 2019’s Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver. With the end of that cycle, there was always going to be a turnover of players and some new faces as the coach looked to the 2023 World Cup and Paris 2024. That rejuvenation, however, went on hold with the 2020 schedule wiped out but the Banbridge man can look forward to a busy second half to this year with plenty on the table.

Fixtures against Scotland and Great Britain are pencilled in for June and July ahead of August’s EuroHockey Championship II in Gniezno, Poland and a subsequent World Cup qualifier in October. It is a flurry of action from which Tumilty says plenty of new faces will get their chance to shine.

“We have a very young group, an exciting group and one that has worked extremely hard over the last year,” he said.

“But it is definitely a rebuild job that we need to embrace. We need to be patient with these players. There will be ups and downs and challenges, but I definitely think there is talent to work with and that’s part of the enjoyment in the role.”

Having that World Cup qualifier shot is a big boost for Tumilty. It means a top four finish at the Euro B division will put the Green Machine into an eight-team event with two places on the line. Initially, such an avenue looked to be off limits but the European Hockey Federation’s members canvassed successfully for this option to be introduced.

“Excellent news. When I first saw we weren’t getting a World Cup qualifier shot, alarm bells were ringing. But it reflects the good work of the EHF and their relationship they have with their federations.

“They deserve a lot of credit for that. It gives the lads a good focus for the next three or four months and could give us an extra focus for 2022.

“Having said that, with the FIH calendar, there is lots happening every year with the Nations Cup and the new Euro qualifier process. It is good to see that it gives us a structure.

“It highlights to me the importance of growing our player base. A lot of the guys returning home are now going into employment; we have to recognise people have a certain amount of annual leave; there’s not the same flexibility as if they were full-time players. We need to be able to manage it and have those younger players coming through.”

Since the Olympic qualifiers, Chris Cargo and Eugene Magee have formally retired while Jonny Bell, Stephen Cole and Stu Loughrey are taking time out for the time being.

It means opportunity knocks for the youngsters which Tumilty has been working with in regional sessions. In Munster, ex-internationals David Hobbs and Jonny Bruton have been heading things up; in Ulster, Erroll Lutton, Ray Geddis and Scott McCandless are in situ while Irish Under-21 coach Joe Brennan and senior assistant coach Jason Klinkradt are on board in Leinster.

Tumilty has also picked up some strong additions to his support staff. Eoin Cunniffe has been installed as physical performance lead for the side and the junior age groups while Neill Irwin will be the team manager and nutritionist.

“Eoin co-ordinates the medical side of the staff, the physios, the S&C and so on. He has done really well in developing the guys physically. The way the game has gone, it has moved a bit more toward the physical side from the technical and tactical side.

“We have definitely made strides in that area which I am pleased with. He has a good relationship with the players and is someone we are working with a long-term objective to develop in the underage groups.

“For Neill, he is also involved with Dublin GAA as a nutritionist which gives him a great understanding of high performance and has been involved with a very successful and professional environment.

“Manager is a key role and he has developed a good relationship with the players. Staffing-wise, it is good to get the team nailed down. It has taken a while but it is getting there.”