Bell waiting on Olympic selection

Matthew Bell is desperate to secure his spot on the plane to Rio. INBL1615-26EB
Matthew Bell is desperate to secure his spot on the plane to Rio. INBL1615-26EB

‘I don’t think he wants to talk about it.’

And yet, it must be the elephant in the room.

Ireland’s hockey stars, including Banbridge men Matthew Bell, Eugene Magee and Drew Carlisle, are hard at work in the panel for Olympic selection.

Yet not everyone in that group is going to be boarding the plane to Rio this summer.

It makes for a fierce battle for places and Bell says no hints have been given by coach Craig Fulton.

“None at all,” he told the ‘LEADER.’ “I don’t think he wants to talk about it. It’s still such a long way away. The original squad isn’t named until June and then it’s cut down to the final 18 in July.

“A lot can happen between now and then.

“Everybody’s trying to get the most out of every training session. We’re all pushing hard to fight for our places.

Bell admits that the thought of missing out on a spot at the Olympics is ‘very disappointing.’

Understandably, of course, especially given the sacrifices being made by the squad in preparation.

Bell, a mechanical engineering student at Queen’s, postponed his final year to dedicate all of his time to hockey.

Other members of the squad don’t have such a luxury, balancing work with the three days per week training in Dublin.

After the club season ends, the squad will go to full-time training in Cork, a move made more difficult due to the €225,000 shortfall facing Irish Hockey.

“They had wanted to be able to reimberse the guys,” explained Bell, “especially the ones who are taking time out of work to dedicate to the training but as things stand, they’re not going to be able to do that.

“They’re still trying to get a main sponsor and have some other fund-raising ideas.

“There are guys like Timmy Cockram who have families to think about. He has two young twins so hopefully something can get sorted for the likes of him. It’s a big commitment, even more so for the guys flying in from overseas every week.”

Bell, along with Eugene Magee, is just back from England, where he was part of the Ireland squad played a series against Great Britain last week.

“It was nice to get a chance to go and play on the replica of the Rio pitch they have over there. That’s what money gets you,” he laughed.

“It was quite strange. It was thick and bristly. One of the English guys turned on it and did his ACL so that’s him out for about nine months. I’m sure he’s absolutely gutted.

“The results flattered them.

“The 5-1 in the last game didn’t reflect the game at all. They scored a few in the last quarter which made it look a lot worse than it was. For the majority of the game, it was very tight.

“It was great to get back playing matches together again and we have to be playing those top sides. That’s absolutely key to our preparation.”

Back at Havelock Park, Bell’s Banbridge are all set for the end of season European qualifiers. Those are being hosted in Banbridge on 30th April and 1st May, with Bann set to take on Monkstown in the semi-final.

“We’ve struggled against them in recent years,” said Bell, “but this season we have drawn with them twice and felt we should have won both games. Hopefully we will have the upper hand on them at our place.

“It’s been a difficult season. We’ve been dropping in and out and it’s hard for the other guys not having the full squad there all the time.”