Ireland’s men, with nine Ulster players in the squad start their Olympic qualifying campaign against Scotland in Le Touqet on Saturday (10.15am).
Ulster Hockey caught up with Ireland coach Alexander Cox before the Ireland party headed to France.
Looking back to the warm up games v France, majoring on second one what were your thoughts?
I was happy about certain aspects of our game but also the same as the game before, some mistakes on our side, some unforced errors which made the game more difficult. if we make less unforced errors then the game can be easier. It’s a tough opposition, the same quality as us so therefore you need to be on top of your game for four times 15 minutes. I think we did reasonably well, happy with the win and it’s also important before going to France. As always I’m proud of the lads, they gave it their all again, they worked so hard and I think we deserved the win in the end.
And obviously a hat-trick for Eugene Magee. What do you think of Eugene within the team?
As one of our older, experienced players he’s doing great for the team and also his personality is great for the team and also the way he plays. Three goals today is massive and I’m so happy that he’s with us. A great player and a great person.
Looking ahead to Le Touquet, what are your aims for the tournament?
The aim is to get to the top two to get to the qualifiers and if we don’t reach that then we will be disappointed. Again it will be tight. France has the same quality as we have and they (France) is also going to face South Korea which is a quality team and also the other teams that are there but we have one aim and that is to finish in the top-two. I am confident that we can especially if we play well. If we have a big volume of that, I have a lot of confidence that we can succeed in France.
In general, what are your thoughts on Hockey Ireland structures, contact time etc
The contact time was good. We have to work around the whole group and that means we have a lot of players who play overseas and we have a lot of players who also have a job next to hockey so that means we have to build a programme so that everyone is available – so I can’t complain.
It’s unfortunate that Eugene is missing the Europeans due to work, what’s your thoughts with that situation.
We have to work with the situation that we have and until now we’re doing that in a good way, it’s tough let’s say the position we are now in the world rankings that is a position that is good but it’s really difficult to get a better position because you’re fighting against a lot of teams who are fully professional and that’s what we fight against. That’s why I am proud of the boys that they make all the space and room in their lives to train hard despite the fact they also have a family like Eugene and they also have jobs. So I take my hat off to them because it’s tough.
How are the boys coping with the zonal defence system?
I’m very happy with how we are evolving because our normal style is man-to-man and I thought we should also add a zonal defensive structure because that gives us more opportunities to play counter attacks from certain areas on the field and we also need to mix it up against different opposition so it is more difficult for them when they build up, when they outlet. All of a sudden we play a zone or we play man-on-man. The way we play now with a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 system, we are in control most of the time so the opposition has to find a way through it and I’m really happy how we are playing that zonal defence now.
Obviously for any coach you have to make tough decisions on who is selected. It must have been tough to leave out Kirk Shimmins and Alan Sothern?
It was a tough decision; in the end I chose this group because of certain reasons and one of the reasons was that from the guys who are not included now like Kirk and Alan, with the experience that they have, I want to see more from them on the field – as simple as that – so they need to step up their game to give the team more on the field, especially. I also chose a different forward line, like two guys who normally play midfield (Sean Murray and Michael Robson) play in the forward line now and it gives me the option to play a bit different from what we used to – a little more attacking, a little more freedom and the connections from midfield to attack – that’s an important one in the way we play on the ball and that’s also the reason why I picked the forward line that we have at this moment.