Andrew Meredith believes that an overhaul of the current Irish senior men’s training setup is needed with elite players being encouraged back to Ireland from their foreign bases if the side is to be able to thrive in the current economic environment.
The recommendation came in the wake of Ireland’s seventh place finish in Rotterdam in the World League semi-final, an event in which Ireland finished a couple of slots outside of the probable World Cup qualification cut-off.
With a multitude of players unavailable, particularly across the midfield with experienced hands Eugene Magee, Geoff Magee, Mitch Darling and John Jermyn unavailable; David Ames and Ian Sloan out of the picture as well as Bruce McCandless and Peter Brown, it was always going to be tough.
That they only fell to Spain by a contentious late goal and slipped to an Indian draw in game one when a win would have seen them meet a more than beatable France in the critical game five masked some of the inadequacies.
Meredith admits that the side missed out on the primary objective but did say that playing such a high level of competition did have some positives in his post-tournament synopsis.
“We came here with the goal of wanting to qualify for the World Cup and that wasn’t achieved. Clearly, we are disappointed that didn’t happen but considering the interruptions we had and player unavailability, it was good for us to expose some guys to this claibre of competition.
“This is not a Champions Challenge or the old qualifiers with Russia or Ukraine. These are all teams ranked above us bar one. It’s a learning curve where all mistakes get punished.
“Too often in games, we had phases where we weren’t concentrated, whether it was the experienced guys that I was critical of at the back or the younger guys on that steep learning curve. We’ve got a lot out of this but unfortunately, the main goal we haven’t achieved. There’s a small possibility through the Europeans but we are realistic.”
To that end, he hinted at changes to the panel for August’s Europeans in Belgium with youth to get its head in the summer training programme with the build-up to Rio 2016 very much in mind.
“We know the economic conditions. For instance, the Spanish complain they have no money but still have three times the budget we do. We know what we have and the model has to change if the finance isn’t there.
“I really believe the way forward is regional development in Leinster and Ulster and then expanding to Munster eventually. Players being overseas based, I think we have to create an elite environment in Ireland and workshop that.
“We can’t possibly go away and play a lot of games or have these camps. We can work on a weekly basis with the talented coaching staff that we have. That’s the way forward and so we can then spend money on support services to try and get the most out of the athletes.”
To this end, he hopes to put in place what he believes is a more holistic approach than Paul Revington, one in which the players take a great ownership of their preparations.
“The important thing is the structure that goes beyond the old model. Under the old coach [Revington], he did everything and went to every training session. When he left, there was a massive vacuum because the infrastructure wasn’t there. What’s critical is creating that infrastructure so that people can come and go in coaching roles and I think that will create stability in the national programme.”
Asked whether he believed that such a regional base would require him being based in Ireland, Meredith disagreed.
“It’s not about me being in Ireland. For the camps and the tournaments, it doesn’t matter where I am. If I’m in Ulster then I’d have to travel up and down to Leinster and vice versa. From Hamburg, I’m 90 minutes away. It’s not really a factor.
“With managing a programme, it can be done remotely. When we come together as a group, of course I’ll be there. The last six to eight weeks, I’ve spent more time in Ireland than at home. At this moment I don’t see the value in being based in Ireland; number one, I have a young family and that was always the reason. Nothing’s changed.”
He was pleased however with how his side bounced back in their final game against France to salvage a result when a devastating psychological blow could have burdened the side going forward.
“It’s massive. The difference is chalk and cheese between if we ended after it was 4-0 against a team we really should beat with the performance we put in. It’s a massive lift to the group involved with the amount of courage and desire and fight they showed to manufacture that result. There’s a choice to be made there, these guys made that choice and it was a pleasure to watch in the last few mniutes.
“In the first half, it was one of the poorest performances that I’ve seen. There could be a lot of factors involved in that, especially because we invested so much in getting a result against Spain and weren’t rewarded for that.
“In the second half, we had a game plan and it was up to the individuals on the park. They had a choice, whether they showed the heart and desire to get back into the game or not. They chose to fight.
“What was great, collectively, they took responsibility to fix the problem. The problem was the communication, the work ethic and the organization. Once that was solved, we were in a much better place.”