Rio a dream come true for Ireland’s No 1 David Harte

Ireland’s appearatnce at the Olympics will top a fine career for a world-class goalkeeper

David Harte: “For me to play in Holland and India and all around the world with Ireland is an incredible experience.” Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images

David Harte: “For me to play in Holland and India and all around the world with Ireland is an incredible experience.” Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images

 

David Harte is probably the best hockey goalkeeper in the world. Next year’s Olympic Games might bring his ability to a wider audience than ever before but in the sport his reputation is secure.

Standing 6ft5in, Harte and his twin brother Conor (also 6ft5in), have journeyed together with Ireland, last month’s qualification for Rio being both an end point and also a new beginning for the pair.

But it has been this year particularly that has seen the goalkeeper’s worth rise in a very real, tangible sense. Harte has been playing in both The Netherlands and in India for the last two seasons and this year will stay with Dutch side SV Kampong until the indoor European season begins in January.

He will then fly to India to take up his place with Dabang Mumbai and play in the Hockey India League, a network of franchise teams that compete professionally. Mumbai are owned by DoIT Sports Management.

Best goalkeeper

This year Harte was only one of three players retained by the side along with Australia’s Jeremy Hayward and Indian drag flick specialist Harmanpreet Singh. They discarded Belgian striker Tom Boon, the most costly player of 2015 at $103,000.

For fear of losing their Irish player, who was this year voted the best goalkeeper at the European Championships, where Ireland won the bronze medal for the first time, they declined to put him up for auction.

Instead the club offered Harte a retainer that was worth more than his player’s fee for last season. “It’s an honour to be retained in such a high quality event,” he says. “I was originally bought for $11,000 the cheapest overseas player. Now I’m the most expensive goalkeeper, which is quite a change.

“It’s a matter of public record I was bought for$65,000. I think they didn’t want me to go back to auction and I was offered a higher retainer to stay on a two-year contract.”

Because of Ireland’s historic qualification for Rio, the first field team sport to do so since 1948, Harte’s schedule has become hectic and he will miss January warm weather training with Ireland in South Africa.

His spell in India stretches from January 10th to February 20th and from then Dutch club Kampong and Ireland’s run into Rio in August will be the main focus.

Prior to that Ireland take to Spain at the end of November. It will be the busiest eight months of a career that will have spanned 10 years when Rio comes around. Harte first played for Ireland in August 2006 against France, the same debut game as his twin brother.

“Yes I play professionally but the day I see hockey as a job is my time to step away,” he says.

“I never say it’s a job. For me to play in Holland and India and all around the world with Ireland is an incredible experience. I’ve been lucky enough to do this with my brother. I would describe it as fantastically special. To play with my twin and get our first caps on the same day and now still going strong together... to do that with somebody who is also your best friend is a really special feeling.”

Turn heads

Brought up in Kinsale, he began playing hockey relatively late in Bandon Grammar School as a 13-year-old. Now, 154 Irish caps later and riding high since Rio was confirmed last week, playing in India will both warm his bones and heart.

“I’ve been in Mumbai for the last two seasons. I’ve said it before it’s my favourite city,” he says. “It has a western feel whereas other parts of the country are almost like an untouched India.

“For people to see my blonde head is still unusual. Me and Conor (who also played with Mumbai) walking down the street are like two Godzillas. We definitely turn heads and get the odd photo.”

This is the most professional Irish team and management he has played with, the squad finally spanning a gap with the world elite. Bronze at this year’s European Championships, beating Pakistan and able to go head to head with Great Britain and win has drawn positive attention.

“In Delhi at the World Cup Stadium you would get a 5,000 to 10,000 crowd for matches,” he says. “We stay in five star hotels, get transport and play with the best players in the world.

“But in hockey my desires have always been out there, far -fetched sometimes and my love for the game is always with Ireland. We’d heartbreak in 2012 when we didn’t go to London, losing to Korea in the dying seconds.”

A podium place in Rio is the goal. It’s no longer outrageous to believe that can happen.

“We always aim big,” he says. No reason any more to doubt it.

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