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Fulton continues never ending dream

By Graham Hamilton

Last year was one of the most important - and unquestionably the most successful - for the Irish men, with Craig Fulton guiding them to the Olympics and bagging European bronze for the first time.

But 2015 is now destined to history and the new year beckons with the trip to Brazil uppermost in everyone's mind.

There are still over 200 days before the Green Machine heads to Rio but Fulton and his squad start preparations in earnest this weekend when they fly out to Cape Town for a training camp which will take in eight games against top-class opposition.

Fulton sees the series of games against Argentina, Belgium, Spain and Canada as just what his players need as they look ahead to what will be a difficult series in Rio where they are ranked to finish 10th out of 12 but are hoping to do better.

"This is an important phase, and the warm-weather training and match schedule gives us an opportunity to make improvements in key areas, both individually and as a squad," he says.

The trip gives Fulton the chance to run his eye over his 25-man training panel and see how they do against opposition who will also be at the Olympics.

And what he sees will go a long way in helping him make the decision whether to stick with the experienced batch of players who booked their place in Rio or take along some of the young exciting stars knocking so loudly on the door.

Fulton has certainly turned the fortunes of the Irish men since his appointment in 2014.

The disappointment of missing out on the London Olympics by conceding a last-gasp goal in the qualifying final, hit hard, and then came the financial crisis which saw the IHA pull them out of the World Champions Challenge series in Argentina.

But a fund-raising scheme saw that decision reversed and although by now they had lost a handful of leading Ulster players to the Great Britain set-up, the appointment of Fulton saw the Green Machine climb the world rankings as well as reaching the Olympics and winning Euro bronze for the first time.

Fulton, whose nickname is Ned - that's an acronym for Never Ending Dream - knows what's it's like to take part on the Olympic stage, having graced the finals twice with South Africa.

When appointed Irish coach, he said the aim was to reach Rio ... and he delivered big time.

Now, he says, the aim is not just to make up the numbers.

This training camp in Cape Town signals the start of preparations to not only enjoy the occasion in Brazil but also rise to the occasion and continue to claim big scalps.

Belfast Telegraph


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