In a tournament that will mark a series of personal milestones, Stephen Butler is keen to downplay the most outstanding of individual landmarks to achieve on a national level.
Butler’s 152nd appearance in the green yesterday in the 10-2 win against Italy in the EuroHockey Nation's Trophy saw him surpass the great Paddy Brown as Ireland’s most capped player, adding to the record Irish goal's tally he already holds.
But the Glenanne man downplayed its significance, saying team challenges are featuring far more prominently in his mind.
“We’re trying to emphasise the importance of the team and not just individuals. I really respect that. The ‘team’ is perhaps, something we might have missed in the past but it’s working well for us now so there wasn’t a big deal made of [becoming the record cap-holder].
“There are always big occasions but my 100th cap wasn’t a really big deal for me [an off-season test match against China]. Even with 152, it is just a number. I want to get to a World Cup, I want to get to a major. That’s the most important thing.”
Butler was handed an unexpected debut in the last millennium by John Clarke. He had played a handful times with the Irish panel in 1998 but was well into a summer break when Gal Goulet picked up an injury. Within three days of receiving the call, the midfielder made his first appearance against Japan at UCD in a 3-2 win.
Since then, the level of international commitment required has gone through the roof.
“From when I started to now, the professionalism that has come into the game between all the teams has is massive.
“In my first year, I earned four caps. Now, we’re getting up to 20 or even 30 caps in a year. it’s a huge difference. The training that we’re putting in and the hours, there’s no comparison.”
And for players of his vintage, juggling full-time careers with that increased commitment has been particularly tough but he still feels there is a need for old heads around the squad.
“It’s easier for the students and I think the game will push younger as time goes on. It’s important for us to try and keep as many people in the game as long as we can because we need that experience because when players drop out like last year, it takes a lot to rebuild it.”
Whatever the pressures, Butler is keen to prolong his career as far as he can in pursuit of adding an appearance at a ‘major’ to his CV - something he believes Ireland are in a better position than ever before.
“Absolutely, we’ve a great structure in place and some really good young players coming through. A good base of senior players and a leadership group, all happy with Revs [Paul Revington], Arul [Anthoni] and Ned [Craig Fulton].To be honest, its all in place.
"I think yesterday [against Italy] is a good example of how we stepped up . In the huddle at half-time we were 4-1 up. We were saying ‘now’s the time to drive it home’. To actually turn it into a 10-2 game was a tough task so hopefully we’re showing the difference.”
* For an excellent rundown on Stephen Butler's international career, go to the Glenanne website