With over a dozen of Ireland’s core men’s international panel set to play their hockey outside the country, Paul Revington faces a major logistical headache but it is a task the national coach feels could open doors for new players to shine on the domestic scene.
This summer has seen Tim Lewis, Alan Sothern, Conor and David Harte, Andy McConnell, Brian Doherty, David Ames and skipper Ronan Gormley leave the domestic game. They join the likes of Phelie Maguire, Geoff McCabe, Mikey Watt, Paul Gleghorne, Chris Cargo, Eugene Magee and Mikey Watt.
When asked by The Hook this week how the side will cope with these new challenges, Revington said that he and the IHA are currently ironing out the details.
“We’re trying to work out how we piece the puzzle together. It will involve me travelling a bit more overseas, checking and watching games. It will also probably involve our programme being designed, instead of meeting in Ireland that we may meet up outside of the country at different phases.
“I don’t think it’s anything that is too difficult for us to manage otherwise we would discourage [players moving abroad].”
It comes at an interesting time as Revington attempts to reshape his panel to a more man-to-man based defensive setup while the midfield has undergone an overhaul in the wake of Stephen Butler and Graham Shaw while John Jermyn and David Hobbs took a summer sabbatical.
The South African was pleased with how the likes of David Ames, Geoff McCabe, Alan Giles, Andy McConnell and Chris Cargo took on the extra responsibility once given the chance.
“I wouldn’t say it was a concern as it was something we may have predicted last year as something that could change in our team. The work was done last year to bring players in and enlarging the squad. That had its advantages in this recent summer. Players were able to step in and perform roles comfortably.”
To that end, the players were disappointed not to take home gold from the recent Five Nations’ event in Paris with two early draws stunting their chances. The draw with France particularly rankled with plenty of circle entries going a begging but Revington was keen to stress that the summer months were focussed on implementing a man-to-man defensive system.
“The nature of the Five Nations from a focus point of view; we had specific things we wanted to get right over the summer period and, I think, each game that was where our focus primarily was.
“With some better finishing it could have gone our way… but the main focus was definitely bring a new system orientation and our objective was to have a degree of flexibility to the way we defend.”
With players moving away from Ireland, The Hook suggested that it may be tough to engrain those principles into the squad as group training becomes harder to organise but Revington says the basic concepts remain easy to translate in each player’s club career.
“I wouldn’t be worried about it. What we’ve put in place is based on principles and concepts which should be universal and it is a matter of, when the players come back to their Ireland focus period, they bring those principles and techniques back together again.
“The work done last year when the core group was together a lot meant those principles became the foundation on which we operate.
“The man-to-man principles and concepts that we did in the last couple of weeks will be adding to that foundation. I wouldn’t have an issue with them leaving. Potentially, they will get stronger in terms of implementing those principles.”
As for his thoughts on the volume of players moving abroad at the same time, Revington believes that it is a natural progression for many given the stage in their life.
“Most have done several years at the same clubs in Ireland and developed through them. I think they all want to take another step to improve and I think it’s a good thing if that is what they want to do.
“It doesn’t mean they are going to be lost to Ireland. I think when they come back; I think they are going to be stronger for Ireland and their clubs.”
The comparison with the ladies game – which sees a number of players centralising to Dublin and only Emma Clarke and Lizzie Colvin playing outside these shores – shows a stark contrast and begs the question whether he sees that as a viable option for the men’s set-up.
“Maybe eventually, I think the ladies and the men are at slightly different phases. The centralisation concept may be looked at in time but it would be, from my side, in a phase when the side is emotionally, technically and developmental wise ready for it.
“As I said, the majority of the guys are at a life-stage where they want to do well and the clubs overseas wanting to have their qualities. Timing is the key thing.”
Asked whether the large chunk of quality players will have a detrimental effect on the IHL and local leagues, Revington believes that increased opportunities will present themselves for club players as a knock-on effect. A regular face in the crowd at club games around Leinster despite his Ulster base, he says he will continue to assess the talent coming through the ranks.
“It won’t stop me watching those games but, maybe this is just the way I view things in life, there may be 10 or 12 players leaving but in our squad there are 28 to 30 players and a whole lot of U-21 players to try and invest in toward the senior side.
“Ten leaving, I see it as a way for all the clubs in Ireland to focus on the next group and develop them. If even six of that group want to go overseas in a year or two’s time it kind of becomes a cycle. But I would still watch the games as there are a whole lot of players left in the system and hopefully the clubs see this opportunity to develop their next group.
“I think we’ve shown over the last 18 months the door is always open, there are always opportunities. And I think I’ve shown over the last 18 months I do value the local competition.
“If coaches are continually open-minded as to who may leave and whoever comes in, how do we train them, how do we develop them, how do we get the next line of players ready. I think it’s just a mindset to have rather than fearing that a few players are leaving and that’s the end of Irish hockey.”