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McKee thrilled to be a part of Irish Tokyo bid

 

Top pick: Johnny McKee
Top pick: Johnny McKee

By John Flack

Ireland interim head coach Mark Tumilty has included nine Ulster players in his squad for the two-legged Olympic qualifier with Canada in Vancouver on November 26-27.

Among the local men returning after more than a year out are Banbridge striker Johnny McKee and Corinthian player-coach Peter Caruth as Tumilty's selection mirrors his attacking philosophy.

Caruth played in the 2016 Olympics in Rio but was plagued by injury in the interim and then narrowly missed out on the cut for August's European Championship in Antwerp.

McKee, like Caruth, last represented his country more than a year ago before playing in last week's warm-up games in France.

"I am really happy and excited to be back wearing the green shirt again and working with Mark in a different capacity from when he was my coach at Bann," said McKee.

Bangor man Chris Cargo also makes a comeback after last playing a major tournament for Ireland at the World Cup in India in November, before opting out due to work and family commitments, while Matthew Nelson returns after being a reserve for the Europeans.

Completing the Ulster contingent are the vastly experienced trio of Jonny Bell, John Jackson and Eugene Magee along with Michael Robson and Sean Murray.

Tumilty said: "We've gone with people in positions that I feel best suits the international team so we've picked midfielders who play midfield and forwards who are just forwards.

"I felt there were a few guys playing up front at the Europeans that possibly were midfielders - the likes of Sean and Michael - so they will return to their normal positions."

Ireland will round off their competitive preparation next week when they face an away date with world and European champions Belgium on Tuesday.

The squad will then head to Canada the following day, leaving them with more than a week to acclimatise and get used to the pitch in Vancouver.

Tumilty expects a difficult couple of games as Ireland bid to secure their tickets to a second successive Olympics.

He said: "I've watched a lot of the Canada matches and they're a good side with plenty of experience within the group and they have five or six key players.

"So we are doing our homework on them but I'm very much of the opinion that Ireland need to focus on Ireland primarily."

Ireland squad for Olympic qualifiers: D Harte (SV Kampong), D Fitzgerald (Monkstown), L Cole (Royal Oree), J Bell (Lisnagarvey), C Harte (Racing Club de Bruxelles), T Cross (Tilburg), S Loughrey (Reading), J Jackson (Bath Buccaneers), S Murray (HC Rotterdam), S O'Donoghue (KHC Dragons), C Cargo (Hampstead & Westminster), M Robson (Crefelder HTC), D Walsh (KHC Leuven), E Magee (Banbridge), P Caruth (Corinthian), J Duncan (Royal Oree), M Nelson (Crefelder HTC), J McKee (Banbridge).

Travelling reserves: B Walker (Three Rock Rovers), Stephen Cole (Monkstown).

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