When the boat came in
There were several things off the pitch that facilitated the Ireland team’s success on the pitch and was one of those could be described in loose terms under the heading “when the boat comes in” – not the mid-1970s BBC period drama but the introduction of former Ireland rugby international Gary “Boat” Longwell.
A European Cup winner with Ulster (1999), the secondrow won 26 caps for Ireland from 2000-2004 and during that career once asked to have his badly broken little finger amputated so he wouldn’t miss out on an Irish game. His request was turned down.
He went on to become high performance director with the Ulster rugby academy, then move to Sport Northern Ireland while doing a Masters in Sports Psychology, and it was for the latter that he was invited to work with the hockey players. He recalled: “I’ve learned a lot more from them than they have from me, how to get mentally ready for games and how to relax. “I just observed, looked for trends, looked for little things. They are all high fliers in their work life but have this incredible dedication to their sport.
“It was important that they enjoy this experience. They didn’t let that pass them by. They relished it. Bottom line what you had was a really special group. They were almost the last to realise it.”