Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Hockey

Eugene Magee is focusing on Banbridge's glory bid

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland's most-capped player Eugene Magee believes hockey here is about to take off over the next year, now that the Green Machine's place at the Rio Olympics is guaranteed.

But the Banbridge midfielder wants to put the euphoria behind him this weekend so he can concentrate on helping his club begin the defence of their Irish Senior Cup.

Magee and most of the squad watched the Oceania final in the early hours at the weekend to make sure that Australia beat New Zealand, as that meant the Irish qualify for Rio as the Kookaburras had already qualified through the World League, and so their place went to the first nation in line.

That honour went to Craig Fulton's lads due to their fine fifth-place finish at July's World League 3 tournament, and now the build-up begins towards what will be a memorable fortnight in Brazil.

Magee was bitterly disappointed at Ireland missing out on the London Olympics when Korea scored the winning goal eight seconds from time in the qualifying final.

But it's all smiles now.

"All the hard work over four years has paid off, and now there is more hard work ahead to prepare for what will be a great tournament," said Magee.

"But I believe there will be a big change in our sport over the next year. For a start, the profile will be lifted to its highest level yet, particular with more than half of the squad coming from Ulster.

"And the standard will rise too, with players benefiting from the new all-Ireland set-up, and more and more kids wanting to play."

But Magee has more than the international team to think about, and the next priority is to help his club team Bann reach the Irish Senior Cup second round on Saturday.

The excitement of reaching Rio was immense but he knows that if he and his five other club mates who are also part of the international set-up don't come down to earth in time for Saturday, it could jeopardise their cup hopes this term.

"We won the cup last season and want to defend it successfully," he said. "UCD won't be easy, so we can't afford to relax."

The opening round of the competition should see around half a dozen Ulster teams make it through.

And with two others having received byes, it means there should be eight from the province among the 16 going into the hat for the second round draw.

In three of the cross-border ties, Instonians, Kilkeel and Mossley have a good chance of upsetting Avoca, Cork Harlequins and Rathgar respectively, although Mossley don't have the advantage of home venue.

But it will be much harder for Newry against Glenanne, Raphoe at Railway Union and North Down against Dublin YMCA.

Lisnagarvey, who have won the trophy so many times in the past, should account for Ulster Premier League side Civil Service and likewise Annadale for Belfast Harlequins in what are the only two all-Ulster ties from the 13.

There are two Irish Hockey Trophy first round ties down for decision too, with Portadown hosting Munster side Bandon and Antrim heading to Dublin side Fingal.

That leaves no Ulster Premier League programme but there are three Senior League games listed.

Congratulations have been coming in from all quarters since Ireland men had their tickets to Rio stamped over the weekend.

And among those who tweeted their support were Ulstermen Stephen Martin and Jimmy Kirkwood - who both won gold with Great Britain at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Martin, of course, is now with Olympic Ireland and he and Kirkwood were together when they heard the news.

The chances of the Irish landing gold are probably nil but the boys in green are determined that they will go prepared and are not simply there to make up the numbers.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph