Friday, February 23, 2024

McKibbin revelling in Irish Olympic dream

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Comber man, 26, says Games ticket is the ‘pinnacle’ of his career

Rory McKee

r.mckee@ardschronicle.co.uk

COMBER native Peter McKibbin has admitted the last few days are still sinking in after he helped the Ireland Senior Men’s Hockey team secure their place at this summer’s Olympics.

The 26 year-old defender was a used substitute as Ireland overcame South Korea following a breathless, win-or-bust playoff match in Valencia last Sunday, with the 4-3 victory earning them the 12th and final ticket to the Paris Games.

Goals from Matthew Nelson, Ben Johnson, Johnny McKee and Shane O’Donoghue sealed qualification for Mark Tumilty’s side in an epic encounter, which saw Korea fight back from 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 down.

But the Irish team, indebted to the efforts of goalkeeper David Harte, survived a number of scares – including a goal disallowed by the video umpire in the closing stages of the third quarter – to prevail against the nation who ended their Olympic hopes back in 2012.

“It’s hard to try and put into words,” reflected McKibbin, who plays his club hockey with Lisnagarvey.

“I was there watching in 2012 and can remember when Korea scored a last-minute goal to end the dream as such. A few of the guys in the squad now were involved in 2019 when it didn’t go our way and a lot of us have been introduced since then,” he explained.

“Before the tournament we probably knew that it might play out that way, and obviously it ended up being a tight game. Every time we scored, it seemed like they scored.

“We weren’t a million miles off against Belgium and Spain, I guess it comes down to those fine margins. But I think it definitely shows the character of the group, we’re in a really good place at the moment.”

Former Regent House pupil McKibbin, whose first international cap came in 2019, signed a one-year deal with Hamburg-based outfit Grossflottbeker THGC the following year. Now back at home and with an IHL title under his belt at Garvey, he believes that experience was key in helping to mould the player he is today and is ready to knuckle down ahead of a pivotal few months.

“Going away to Germany certainly helped me. It’s a different style of play, they’re a lot more patient in their build-up and you’re playing against some top internationals.

“But to qualify for the Olympics with Ireland is definitely top of the pile for me,” he said.

“I know it sounds cliche, but as a hockey player the Olympics really is the pinnacle. Now it’s about six months of hard work to make sure that I’m a part of it in the summer.

“It’s going to be tough, but you never know in sport and we’re very much looking forward to what’s ahead.”

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