By Rod Gilmour
Ireland men will aim to avoid mystery sub-continent bugs and call upon the spirit of the women side’s heroic summer in their first World Cup since 1990 this week.
The Green Machine settled into their Bhubaneswar base on Sunday ahead of a three-week campaign in India where a 20-strong squad will hope to stay fit and healthy in a bid to further Irish hockey’s already memorable 2018.
They begin their campaign against defending champions Australia on Friday, with Pool games against China and England deciding progression to the knock out stages.
The world No 10 side’s preparations have included two wins over England, before Holland handed out a 7-1 hammering.
But the Dutch defeat saw David Harte, the influential goalkeeper and captain, come through unscathed after fears he could miss the World Cup with a leg injury.
The squad includes defender Luke Madeley, who was described by Hook Hockey as the ‘bolter’ in new Dutch coach Alexander Cox’s initial team.
The Dubliner first broke into the Irish squad in 2016 and is still adapting from the domestic scene.
‘It’s more about being comfortable with the big step up in international hockey,’ he said. ‘I had been warned by people but you don’t know until you experience it.’
Despite Madeley being picked as a travelling reserve after the initial squad announcement, he and fellow reserve Jeremy Duncan will certainly be on their mettle, given most teams’ health concerns at this World Cup.
While rivals England have opted to use a local restaurant rather than eat in the team hotel, the Irish players have been given a ‘do’s and don’t package’.
‘It’s about trying to fend off anything that might keep players out for a period of time,’ said Madeley.
‘We can’t eat street food and we have to make sure to keep our mouths closed in the shower, all things you take for granted.’
Players will also refrain from swimming at their squad base. The edict follows a World League event in Bhubaneswar last year when several teams fell ill to a mystery bug, including Germany who were forced to field their goalkeeper as an attacker.
‘India will be an amazing experience but we have to be mentally prepared to step in if needed,’ he added.
Madeley will be more than ready after shining for club side Three Rock Rovers on the continent this season.
Last month, Three Rock were close to exiting the Euro Hockey League after conceding late on to Catalan side Junior FC.
But Madeley heroics from a penalty corner strike saw Three Rock’s progression to the last 16 of Europe’s premier club tournament.
‘It turned out to be a big goal and I was delighted that it helped me get picked for the World Cup,’ said the University of Dublin graduate.
Once again, an Irish team will be largely performing against the odds in India, where nearly half the team will be taking unpaid leave or using holiday time.
‘We’re going up against teams with financial backing and I’ve got a lot of respect for the older guys,’ said Madeley.
‘We try and compete with the top guys and you can only take inspiration from the Irish women and how getting to a World Cup final was beyond their wildest dreams.’
Yet experience is also gleaned with half the side also based across leagues in Holland, Germany and Belgium.
Madeley said: ‘There is a core who have been in the side for years. The attitude is no excuses, whether we’re looking at budgets of other teams or time we get to spend together for training.
‘You just have to have a lot of respect for the guys.’