Belfast Telegraph

Split loyalties ahead for Olympic hero Martin

 

Scots role: Olympic gold medallist Stephen Martin
Scots role: Olympic gold medallist Stephen Martin

By John Flack

Ulster's Olympic gold medallist Stephen Martin will have divided loyalties at the European Hockey Championship in Antwerp over the next 12 days and none more so than on Sunday when Ireland take on Scotland in a crucial group match.

Martin, who was part of the Great Britain team that were crowned champions in 1988, has been appointed as a non-executive director of Scottish Hockey, the sport's governing body.

The Holywood man won a combined total of 229 international caps for GB and Ireland in his playing days and is a former Chief Executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Martin insists Scottish hockey is on an upward trajectory and he will be on the horns of a dilemma on Sunday when the teams meet head on, after Ireland open their campaign against Netherlands tomorrow (2.45pm).

"Scottish Hockey have a clear vision and strategy in place to be a top three team sport in the country, assessed across a number of factors and are well supported by government sports agencies," said Martin.

"Hockey in Scotland has strong growth figures, showing an 80% increase in membership in the past four years and results in their performance programmes have been outstanding this summer, especially at age group level.

"The Scottish women won the second-tier European Championship in front of a capacity crowd in Glasgow last week and the Under 18, Under 21 and senior international sides of both genders are all in the European top-flight now.

"The Scotland versus Ireland men's game is a crucial one for both teams - both will be targeting a positive result but Ireland, based on their world ranking, will start as favourites to win.

"Scotland will be trying to consolidate their place in amongst the European elite while England and Ireland will have their eye on making the semi-finals."

Martin's new role, which has a special emphasis on performance, will see him represent Scottish interest on the Great Britain Hockey Board. While the Ulster man is unwilling to state who he will be supporting on Sunday, he is more forthcoming about who he wants to win the competition outright.

Martin added: "As a Great Britain Board member now, I hope either the England men's or women's team wins the Euros which would automatically qualify GB for the Tokyo Olympics but I think a more realistic outcome is semi-final or top-four spot in Antwerp."

As for Ireland, tomorrow's game against the Dutch defending champions is unlikely to produce a positive outcome, adding even more significance to Sunday's showdown with the Scots.

Lisnagarvey defender Jonny Bell, who will continue as captain in the absence of the injured Davey Harte, is expecting a tough game against his team's cross-channel rivals.

He said: "Games between the sides are almost always close affairs and sometime a little niggly but it's one we'll be targeting to win although it will be the same for them."

Meanwhile, Ulster-born former Ireland internationals Ian Sloan and David Ames have been included in the England squad for the Euros but Antrim man Mark Gleghorne has failed to make the cut.

Ireland's women start their campaign against England in Antwerp on Sunday (10.15am).

Tonight: EuroHockey Championship: men: Pool A: Belgium v Spain (7.30pm).

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