Bann men desperate to make Olympics squad

Matthew Bell is one step away from a place at the Olympics. Pic: Presseye

Matthew Bell is one step away from a place at the Olympics. Pic: Presseye

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Two Banbridge men are off to Spain today keen to impress the Irish hockey coach.

Matthew Bell and Eugene Magee both made it through to the latest cut of the Ireland squad.

But with one further chop to come to decide the final Olympic panel, the hard work is far from over.

Coach Craig Fulton named a 21 man squad to travel to Valencia for the Six Nations tournament, which begins on Monday, although missing out was fellow Banbridge HC man Drew Carlisle.

The 21 man squad will be further cut to 16 for the Rio Olympics on Sunday 10th July, with two travelling Reserves.

So how confident are the local lads of making it onto the plane to the Olympics?

“I don’t really know,” said Bell, Banbridge HC’s Supporters Player of the Year. “All I can do is play as well as I can and put everything into it, which I have and will be doing.

“It (the final selection) is in the back of everyone’s mind but when we’re together, everyone is focused on what we’re doing.

“It’s all about trying to stay injury free too. We have something like 13 or 14 matches before Rio so a lot can happen.”

For Carlisle, it’s disappointment as he comes up just short of a place in the squad.

“That’s sport unfortunately,” said Bell. “I don’t think any of us were particularly confident of making it through because you just never know what the coach is thinking. At least Drew is away on holidays now getting a break.”

Before the big summer tournament itself, Magee and Bell will have plenty of opportunities to impress the boss.

Those begin on Wednesday when they travel to Valencia for a Six Nations tournament, beginning on Monday, against Spain, Germany, India, New Zealand and Argentina.

“There will be a lot of very, very good teams there and it will be great to get more experience playing against those guys,” said Banbridge captain Magee.

“It’s what we need to keep bringing us forward and moving us up to the top level. We’re certainly going to be tested next week anyway.”

After the tournament ends on July 3, the squad return to Cork to play world number two side Holland in a late double-header before the final squad selection.

“That’s what we needed the funding for - to make sure all of this could happen,” said Eugene.

“The fundraising is still going but we’re nearly at our target now.”

The final 16, along with the two reserves, travel to Argentina on July 18 for a final two week preparation before the road to Rio ends and the Olympics begin.

The original squad of 27, including Magee, Bell and Carlisle, began full-time training last month, many of them, including Magee, taking career breaks.

“Work were very supportive,” he said.

“It’s been great. We started out at Carton House and really sorted out what we wanted and how we were going to get there.

“We had a few good sessions with big sporting names like Rory McIlroy, Mickey Harte and Joe Schmidt.

“Rory just talked about the Olympics and how some day an Olympic gold medal could be as important as a major championship.

“It’s been great to be able to give the hockey my full focus. When I’m training on top of work, it can effect both of those things. It’s great to get back at it full-time.”

And now the lads have to make sure they impress Coach Fulton enough to make it through just one more cut.