Craig Fulton stepped down from the Irish men’s head coach role on Thursday to take up an assistant coaching role in the Belgian setup following a spell of unprecedented success.
The shock move comes just six months before Ireland contest their first World Cup in 28 years and ends a super four year spell in charge.
He took on the job midway through the last Olympic cycle with Ireland at a low ebb, bowing out of 2014 World Cup qualifying process in ignominious fashion.
But he quickly turned things around, reintegrating a large quorum from the 2012 campaign and the results came thick and fast. A first Olympic qualification from the 2015 World League was followed by a maiden European Championships bronze medal.
He was names the FIH coach of the year as a result for 2015. World Cup qualification was assured last summer with a confident run that cemented Ireland’s place in the top 10 in the rankings.
Fulton said of his time in charge: “It has been an absolute honour and a pleasure to have been head coach of the Irish mens team since 2014. Great teams are made up of great individuals and I am very proud to say that this has been the case with the players that I have been fortunate enough to coach.
“I am proud that the Irish men’s team, together with the support of the Irish hockey community made history. To David Harte and the squad, all the best for the World Cup and beyond, may this team continue to inspire the next generation of hockey players.”
Fulton’s final match series in charge will come in June when Ireland face France in three matches in Cork. Following that series, the current team assistant coaches Jonny Caren, Kai de Jager and John Bessell will lead the side as Hockey Ireland begin the recruitment process.
Fulton was quick to acknowledge those coaches and the other members of the backroom team: “Thank you to all the Irish senior men’s staff from 2014 to date, none of the progress would have been possible without your drive and dedication.
“I would also like to thank Hockey Ireland, Sport Ireland, Sport NI and the Olympic Council of Ireland for the unwavering support, long may it continue so as to help push the team forward yet again.
“I look forward to taking on a new role with the Belgium Hockey Federation in the near future and I am excited about the new challenges that lie ahead.”
Commenting on Fulton’s decision, Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels said: “We would like to thank Craig for all he has done for the Green Machine and Irish hockey as a whole over many years.
“We understand and respect his decision to move on to Belgian Hockey and thanks to the structures he has put in place we are confident the senior men’s team will continue to thrive and make history. We wish Craig every success in his new role and all his future endeavours.”