IHA board withdraw Irish men’s senior squad from Champions Challenge I

The Irish men’s senior team were left stunned as the Irish Hockey Association board announced their intention to withdraw them from the Champions Challenge I in Argentina which gets underway in late November.

The IHA board cited the lack of a current coach and manager as the reasons for the decision in a statement on the IHA website on Wednesday morning, saying they “could not see how the squad could be properly prepared for this prestigious world tournament”.

Paul Revington handed in his notice in May from the senior men’s role after one of Ireland’s best runs of results, reaching the final of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in March.

Manager Peter Jackson subsequently stepped down after over 200 international games while interim coach Brendon Carolan – who has working commitments with Corinthian and St Gerard’s – was not in a position to carry on the temporary role for another two months.

Since their departure, replacements have yet to be found though the Angus Kirkland, the IHA chief executive, confirmed to The Hook this evening that Revington’s replacement is likely to be named within the next ten days.

While the new coach may be announced in that timeframe, the logistics associated in getting them in place – considering the remaining candidates on the shortlist are not based in Ireland – could take some time.

The decision to withdraw is likely to have far-reaching consequences. For withdrawing less than 12 weeks before the competition, the FIH regulations state there is a fine of up to 15,000 Swiss Francs (around €12,400).

There are possible further financial payments due to the Argentina national association for any related financial losses for Ireland’s non-appearance. The impending fine will also be compounded by the loss of deposits for already booked hotels and flights in Argentina.

Furthermore, there will be a loss of hard-earned world ranking points. An eighth place finish in Argentina would have at least garnered 80 points while an equivalent number will be deducted, representing a deduction approaching 20 percent of Ireland’s current total.

It will leave Ireland under serious pressure to stay in the world’s top 16, something that has increasingly important with the advent of the World League. Falling outside this realm would mean an extra tournament in the next Olympic cycle.

With a couple of Irish players said to be considering stepping away from the Irish selection to pursue 2016 Olympic aspirations with Great Britain, it could scarcely be worse-timed.

Senior men’s players were left devastated by the decision, many incandescent with rage on Twitter (see below). Among the questions were why a new coach had not been appointment despite six months passing since Revington stepped down.

Responding to these questions, Kirkland told The Hook: “In reality, we held off looking straight away as there was a big push to try and retain Paul [Revington]. We could have looked concurrently. The Sports Council, who advised us in this process, suggested to advertise during the Olympics to get your best chance. This is to appoint a coach for hopefully four to eight years.

“It was a tough decision for the board, not one they wanted to take. Clearly the players are unhappy, not just about the message but also the way it was related. The biggest problem will be the impact on world ranking. I can understand that being devastating for the players. To me, that’s the biggest issue.”

He confirmed that the players had not been consulted prior to the decision to withdraw but had been informed this morning via e-mail. While the statement this morning on the IHA site did not mention financial issues, this appeared to be the inference drawn by many when the news was relayed earlier today.

Asked whether this was, indeed, the guiding principle behind the board’s decision, Kirkland said that “the coach is the primary issue” but added that the letter to the players did include a financial caveat.

“That was the primary drive in asking, ‘is this [tournament] going to bring value?’ Will this help the team? With the World League coming between February to May in 2013, we thought it would be better to have a coach coming in November to have a clean run into February.

“And to spend some money on preparing the team with warm-weather training. There is a financial impact – this was communicated, possibly not in the statement, but in the letter to the players.

“The tournament was coming in at more than we budgeted, certainly more than 2009 [at the World Cup qualifiers] even adjusted for inflation. That has an impact on the organisation as a whole. It’s going to be a difficult financial year.”

He cited the possibility of six major tournaments in 2013 for the senior set-ups, two rounds of the World League which lead into the World Cup – something that has a greater impact with the funding bodies – and the Europeans in Belgium.

“We do not want to be withdrawing from anything next year. We anticipate two rounds of the World League – for both men and women – and the Europeans. That’s six competitions in a year. It’s a tough year for sport generally but it is an expensive year.”

He did, however, crack open a narrow window of hope that the decision could be over-turned: “While we made the decision, we haven’t finalised the withdrawal with the FIH as yet.” He subsequently told the Daily Mail’s Jonathan Coates
“I’d rather lose a bit of face and get the right decision, and the board feel the same” as two proposals from a working group will be heard with a view to salvaging the Argentina trip.

On a similar note, a number of clubs have already banded together with a view to approaching the IHA on the matter.

Reactions from the Irish Senior Men’s panel to the IHA Board’s decision to withdraw from the Champions Challenge I

“How does a group continue to aim high when the thought and cohesion at its foundation is so low? #wherefromhere #irishhockey” – Gareth Watkins (@garwatkins)

“5 Years blood and sweat. What a brutal decision from the IHA. Are they for real pulling us out of the CC1? #cheersforthesocalledsupport” – Jonny Bruton (@precisionjonny)

“One step forward, Two steps back.. #shouldntbesurprised” – Alan Sothern (@alansothern23)

“what is the point?????? disgraceful….” – Chris Cargo (@chriscargo25)

“I am speechless #gutted” – Jason Lynch (@jasonlynch7)

“aww dear.. Complete shambles once again..” – David Ames (@davidames5)

“Clearly seems that the aim of winning the euromillions as budget plan has not worked out. hopefully the board win before our next tournament”. Geoff McCabe (@jazzygeoff5)

” ‘dont have a reasonable timescale to appoint a coach!’ – is this a joke? the board has had 5 months #reactivedecisionsyetagain” – Geoff McCabe (@jazzygeoff5)

“5 years work down the drain for Irish men’s hockey. After years of bulls**t, this takes the biscuit. Absolutely gutted. #wherefromhere?‘ – Iain Walker (@RunningWalks)

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