Paul Revington did not wish to elaborate but admitted his tenure had reached “the point of no return”, leading to his departure from the Irish senior men’s coaching role.
When pushed whether he wished to explain what this meant, he told the Hook “we ought to leave it at that” but admitted “everyone has been wanting me to say a whole lot; it’s just the time has come and that’s that”.
It is a statement which probably opens up more questions than answers for the Irish hockey public as Revington departs almost inevitably for the Malaysian coaching role, barring any late glitch.
He steps down with the Irish team in rude health. While his tenure concluded with a low-key 5-0 loss to Belgium on Thursday night, the respect with which the players and the public greeted the final whistle was evident at Belfield.
Over the past three and a half years, the level which the side now competes has been markedly raised; a confidence instilled that Ireland can compete at the top level.
He had form, lifting his native South Africa to tenth in the world in his previous international posting. It was their highest ever rank and he worked a similar feat with Ireland as they now occupy 15th with potential to leap-frog Japan in the coming months.
More than that, victories over Olympic-bound Germany, Belgium, South Africa, Korea, Argentina and Spain as well as draws against Great Britain have marked Ireland as competition for anyone in world hockey.
Throw in four successive Celtic Cups, a European B title, the INSEP Five Nations crown – featuring world number one side Australia – and an equal-best Irish finish in the European A division last August and Revington’s CV has undergone a serious lengthening.
It drew worldwide recognition when he was named the joint-FIH Coach of the Year and it almost brought Ireland to the Olympics, heart-breakingly denied by the slightest of Nam Yong Lee touches eight seconds before the full time whistle of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament final in Dublin.
Revington took his time to step down, announcing the decision almost two months after the Olympic qualifiers. It left him in an odd coaching position, staying on until this week to preside over the Celtic Cup and the UCD 3 Nations.
Facing South Africa last Thursday was the first time he had to coach a side in competitive action members of the Irish staff suggesting some of the players were still in a state of shock.
Asked about managing that situation, Revington said it was a tough situation to manage: “The way I treat things is I’ve got a job to do here, I’ve got to see it out, so do the group. That’s how we’ve approached it. I want to win games, I want to improve.
“But [the player’s reactions] was natural, there was probably one or two… I probably expected more, but I think they’ve been emotional about several things.
“Between me and the players, we’re both disappointed the relationship has come to an end. In any relationship there’s going to be a window where both parties are disappointed, a little bit upset, but as long as the relationship stays healthy and there’s a good deal of respect between everyone, all should be ok.”
That mutual respect between him and the players, evidenced by the post-Belgium hugs on display on Thursday night, made it an especially tough decision but he says that the players in the panel will make it an exceptionally attractive post for the new tenant.
He adds that the “the decision is done and the time is definitely up” but was mixed in his response when the question was posed that the job was, perhaps, incomplete as Ireland still seek a place at a major world level competition.
“I could’ve (been building towards World Cup); we can look at this in any way. I see it as that I’ve made a decision early enough for people to find the next coach, put the next simple path in place, and they need to complete the task.
“Everyone’s been wanting me to say a whole lot, it’s just the time has come, and that’s that.”
Was there anything more the IHA could’ve done? “I think we’d just reached a stage of possibly no return and that’s why I resigned. We ought to leave it at that.”
For now, it remains to be seen whether this group will look back on what might have been or are able to use this as a launch pad. Revington’s tenure may well be defined by the Olympic qualifier, the week in which Irish hockey made it into the greater public consciousness for a rare moment.
But his take on his three and a half year stint with the panel is much more general.
“I don’t know how people want to define it! But I define it as playing a lot of games over three years, improving all the time, getting to another level where we are pushing and pushing for a major qualification.
“No disrespect to any other Irish team who has tried, but I think this was tangible as to how close they were. The group is young enough to still taste it and be frustrated by it, and they must be strong enough to keep pushing because it will happen. That’s just a simple belief in my heart.
“Every tournament win we’ve had, which has been a fair number, every one of those I’ve appreciated; it’s always been with a slightly different group, different people leading it, they’ve just kept pushing and pushing. I don’t think I’d be able to pull one out in particular [as a highlight] but there are a fair number of tournament wins that the guys can be proud of, and I’m certainly proud of achieving it with them.”
The depth and spread of players now with international experience in the bank now numbers over 40 and could well be his most defining legacy as head coach. This week, the Celtic Cup was claimed with ten changes from the OQT panel, many with less than 20 caps to their name, showing the growth in confidence across the board.
To these players, Revington once again puts them at the centre of his thoughts:
“I don’t know how to say this, it would be disrespectful of me to say we’ve only played with half a team, the group we put out in an Ireland jersey is the Ireland team, and I suppose from a mentality point of view we’ve driven that.
“They’ve bought into it and I think the players enjoy that. I think anyone around the world would enjoy that. We proved again this week that we can make several changes; players can continue to improve their performance, which has improved again from the weekend.
“It’s easy for a coach to come in, make the group bigger, ask everyone to be selfless, and not to look at how much game-time, how much games they’ve been playing. They’re the ones who’ve bought into it; they’re the ones who’ve fostered it… so fair play to them.”