Irish men hope to defy the odds in Hockey World Cup
Rupert Heather, EY Ireland
Jonny Bell is a stalwart of Irish Men’s International Hockey. Now 31 years of age, the defender has amassed 146 caps since making his debut in 2012. He is a one-club man who plays for Lisnagarvey in the EY Hockey League.
The Green Machine will take their place in the World Cup which begins on the 28th November in India, the first Irish men’s team to do so since 1990. We caught up with Jonny ahead of the tournament.
Bell has had a stellar playing career, captaining Lisnagarvey to the inaugural EY Hockey League crown in 2016, then qualifying for and playing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. ‘Off the back of all the hype and what we achieved at the Olympics, to then go and qualify for a World Cup is really important. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan,’ he says about the team ranked 10th in the world.
He believes that both the women’s and men’s teams are now reaping the benefits of a culmination of many years of hard work. Structures are now in place to get Irish teams ‘over the line’ where previous generations had fallen just short. ‘Over the last few years we’ve been able to beat teams ranked above us that have more resource. To defy the odds and compete in the top ten in the world is really fantastic,’ says Bell.
‘We need to make sure the structures are in place to ensure success is sustained in the long run. When you’re competing with the world’s top teams you need contact time as a squad.
The amount of funding determines how many days we are together and how many games we play against top opposition. The introduction of the EYHL has ensured that the best players are playing against each other on a weekly basis. It’s a really important breeding ground for the International game.’
On Ireland’s World Cup hopes, Bell says, ‘we are going as underdogs and one of the lower ranked team, but we have shown we are capable of beating teams ranked above us.’
‘We’ve had a really extensive preparation phase that started when we qualified in July 2017. Recently, we’ve spent time on the continent in Holland and Belgium and played quality opposition and in Spain.’
Ireland’s group contains Australia, the highest ranked team in the world, England who are three paces above Ireland in 7th and China ranked 17th.
The top team in the group automatically goes to the quarter final, the bottom team is eliminated and the second and third place teams from each group face a play-off for a place in the quarter final.
So, how confident is Bell that Ireland’s men can emulate the women and reach the later stages? ‘Anything is possible in sport. There’s no doubt that it would be very, very difficult to do that,’ he admits.
You need a bit of good fortune and decisions to go your way. It’s also about performing at key moments, where a game can turn or momentum can shift, a great tackle or piece of skill that we can score from.’
Jonny Bell insists that ‘it’s about having no regrets, prepared as best we can, so that we know come the end of the World Cup we’ve done as much as we can.’