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We can tough it out, claim senior players

By Graham Hamilton

It was back in 1985 that singer Billy Ocean recorded the hit 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going'.

More than 30 years later that line is continually to the fore as senior members of the Ireland men's team try to rally the squad after last week's shock news that coach Craig Fulton was moving to Belgium as assistant coach just six months away from the Green Machine's involvement in the World Cup finals.

Two of Ulster's most experienced players - Lisngarvey's Jonathan Bell and most capped player Eugene Magee (Banbridge) -are quick to point out that the Irish team has come through considerable heartbreak in recent years but always came back stronger.

Like failing to make the 2012 Olympics when Korea scored a goal eight seconds from the end of the final qualifying game in Dublin to deny them a coveted place in London.

And when lack of finances almost saw them withdrawn from the World League series in Argentina in 2012.

But sheer determination from the players saw them bounce back to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, while the hockey family coughed up the money to send the squad to Argentina and the players responded by winning bronze medals in the Champions Challenge series.

Since Fulton's arrival Ireland's fortunes have risen, with a first European bronze in 2015 followed by qualification for the Rio showpiece and now the World Cup finals at the end of this year, as well as consolidating a place in the world's top 10.

Coming just six months from the world finals, Fulton's departure could jeopardise preparations but Bell and Magee declines to see it that way.

"Craig's departure came out of the blue but we can only thank him for what has been a very special and most successful chapter in our history," said Bell.

"The timing isn't ideal but the support staff and structures are still there for the summer programme to continue while a successor is found.

"This team has overcome plenty of obstacles in the past to defy the odds, and although this is another bump along the road, it won't distract us from our mission.

Magee reiterates those words and insists that the players can respond, just like they did after those other recent heartbreaks.

Fulton's final match series in charge will come later this month, when Ireland face France in three matches in Cork.

Following that series the current team's assistant coaches, Ulster's Jonny Caren, Kai de Jager and John Bessell, will lead the side as Hockey Ireland begin the search to find Fulton's successor.

Belfast Telegraph

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