It has been 108 years since Ireland has had a men’s field hockey team in the Olympic Games. The Irish sent a team to the 1908 Games, the first Olympics that field hockey would ever be played in. For this, they did not even need to qualify to compete.
Finally, over a century later, the Green Machine will vie for a shot at an Olympic medal. However, the road to get there has not been an easy one.
Despite the seemingly never-ending Olympic drought, the Irish had chances to qualify in 2008 and 2012 that ended in heartbreak. The team just missed out on a qualification game thanks to a one goal differential in pool play before Beijing. The Irish made it to a qualification game for London, but fell short again when South Korea notched a game-winning goal with two seconds left, leaving them just on the cusp of another Olympics.
This time they would not let that chance go to waste. In 2014, Ireland appointed Craig Fulton as the new head coach. Fulton earned FIH Coach of the Year in 2015 due to his efforts to lead Ireland to its first true Olympic qualification.
The challenges will not stop here for this team. They have been placed in a pool with two of the top medal-contending teams, including two-time defending gold medalist Germany and the Netherlands, who is ranked second in the FIH standings.
As for the players coming into Rio, nobody has Olympic experience. In fact, the Irish team differs from many international teams who play the sport in that many are amateur players. They have full-time jobs that come before their hockey careers and have even had to take unpaid weeks off from work to be able to compete in the Games.
The team is led in goal by 2015 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year David Harte, who is one of the few full-time hockey players on the team. Joining Harte as another player to watch will be Paul Gleghorne, whose toughness and talent were key in Ireland’s road to Olympic qualification.
This Ireland men’s field hockey team will also be the first team to represent the country in any sport at the Olympics since 1948. Luck is finally on Ireland’s side again, and they will see if it will last long enough for them to make a run at the podium in Rio.
Ireland opens up play on Saturday against India. To stream the game click here.