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Bid to make big impact in Rio Olympics will cost Ireland

By Graham Hamilton

Irish coach Craig Fulton has mapped out a hectic schedule to enable his squad to make an impact at the Rio Olympics in August - and it means the Irish Hockey Association will have to find an additional £150,000 to cover costs.

Fulton's training panel, half of which come from Ulster, have already switched to semi-full-time training and the plan is to have them going full-time for the three months prior to the Games, taking in more than two dozen matches against world class opposition.

It's an ambitious plan but Fulton insists it is necessary, otherwise they will simply be making up the numbers in Rio.

The teams in Ireland's pool are already full-time - Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, India and Canada - and that's why the Green Machine must do the same.

It won't be easy, though, with around half of the Irish squad in full-time employment. And that's why massive fundraising is about to get under way to enable players to get time off and take in the intensive training and build-up schedule.

At the moment the players meet on Sunday evenings to work out on Mondays and Tuesdays before returning to work or study. This has caused several to drop out and if they go full-time in May, June and July, perhaps others could follow.

Currently Fulton has a squad of 22 in England where they will complete the three-match series against Great Britain tomorrow, the first two having ended in 3-0 defeats.

But also lined up are three games against Olympic champions Germany, while Korea and Canada are Dublin-bound.

The Irish will also take in a Six Nations tournament in Valencia and perhaps a few more games before Rio.

The commitment being put in by the players is remarkable, particularly from those who are having to take unpaid leave. That is highlighted again this week whereby midfield maestro Eugene Magee joined the panel in England for the GB games less than a week after he got married.

Sadly, he had to return home briefly after his house was burgled.

While the elite programme receives funding, it falls well short and not enough sponsors have committed yet,so fundraising is inevitable.

Fulton said: "We are working against a deficit and need whatever corporate sponsorship we can so that we can reach our potential."

Meanwhile, there is a back-to-back Irish Hockey League programme on Saturday and Sunday. Lisnagarvey have already secured the title and Banbridge should clinch third.

But it's a crucial weekend for Annadale - they need positive results at Railway and home to Pembroke if they want to avoid automatic relegation.

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