Eugene’s Olympic dream ignites in Rio

Eugene Magee is all set for Ireland's opening game of the Rio Olympics on Saturday. INBL1630-202EB
Eugene Magee is all set for Ireland's opening game of the Rio Olympics on Saturday. INBL1630-202EB

Eugene Magee is an Olympian.

Those are the words the 30 year-old Banbridge Hockey Club skipper has been dreaming of reading his whole life.

And this weekend, that ambition will transform into a glorious reality when Eugene steps out onto the pitch in Rio.

Just qualifying for the Games was the goal for Eugene and the entire Ireland squad.

More than that, it was a mission to put right all that had gone wrong in 2012.

Eugene was there as Ireland’s qualification campaign was undone by a Korea strike with just seven seconds left on the clock.

And now, they’ve done it. But they’re certainly not intending to rest on their laurels.

Au contraire. The hard work was only beginning when Eugene sealed his seat on the plane to Rio. Now the Banbridge lad has a new dream. To come back with something strung around his neck.

“We can dream. Obviously getting a medal is what you want to aim at and work towards,” he told the Leader before he jetted off across the Atlantic.

“The first step is to make it out of our pool.

“Being realistic, there is only one team in the pool lower than us in the world rankings so we will have to pull off something special to do that. We know we’re capable of it though. We want to reach the quarter-finals and after that, who knows what can happen?”

This is the first time an Ireland hockey team will have competed at the Olympic Games in the small space of the last 108 years.

Back in 1908, not only did they get to the Games, they bagged a silver medal. Magee’s refusal to rule out a repeat then is well justified.

Before flying to South America, Eugene received his number 12 shirt at a special ceremony to mark the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.

“We had an event at Carton House for all our friends, families and supporters to come down and see us off,” he said. “It was a really a big thank-you to all the people who have helped us to get here.

“It was in my head that this is where we have been dreaming of getting to and what we have been working towards but actually getting to live it is totally different.”

One of the highlights of every Olympic Games is of course the opening ceremony. This year, it is due to take place in Rio’s Maracana Stadium and begins at 12 midnight on August 6 BST.

We can all get a good view of it on our TV screens - and that might be as close as Eugene gets as well, with his side’s first game beginning just 15 hours later.

“I can’t complain too much really,” he laughed.

“Whenever we have a game, we have to prepare properly so I’m not too sure if we’re going to get to the ceremony or not.

“That first game will be massive for us. It’s all very well talking about it now but it will be absolutely fantastic to step out onto that pitch and become an Olympian.”

Eugene’s thoughts are rightly all on the pitch but even as he was driving to board the plane, he still couldn’t convince himself to believe where he was going.

“It’s only beginning to sink in, I think,” he said from his car on the way to Dublin. “That won’t really happen until we get there and we reach the athlete’s village. That will be when I realise that it is really happening but it is certainly becoming more real every day.

“It sort of feels similar to playing in other hockey tournaments but then there are aspects of it that are different in terms of the scale of the support and attention we have received.

“A few of the lads were doing radio interviews and things like that. It’s the biggest build-up I’ve ever experienced and that is very exciting.”

Eugene had three flights and 25 hours of travelling ahead of him when he spoke to us. After pit-stops in Germany and Rio, the Ireland team touched down in Buenos Aires for some final preparations.

Then late last week they completed their trip to the Olympic Village.

Now all that’s left is to put the finishing touches on their warm-up as they bid to escape their pool.

That won’t be easy. They face not only the Netherlands and Germany, ranked second and third in the world respectively, but also record eight times Olympic champions India. Add to that Argentina, ranked seventh in the world, and it makes for a tough task.

Ireland, ranked 12th in the world, will only go into one game as favourites, that is against Canada.

It’s a mammoth task ahead but as some of world hockey’s super-powers have already discovered, Eugene Magee and his Ireland team could well surprise us all - just ask Team GB about last year’s EuroHockey bronze medal match.