Ireland’s most-capped player Eugene Magee and his fellow Ulster man Johnny Bell have admitted they were stunned to learn that national coach Craig Fulton was jumping ship fewer than six months before the World Cup, writes John Flack.
The South African announced his decision to quit and take over as assistant coach to Belgium to the players last week, two days before it became public knowledge.
Fulton took the Ireland men’s team to a new level during his four-and-a-half years in charge, leading them to the 2016 Rio Olympics and a first ever bronze medal at the European Championship 12 months earlier.
The 43-year-old has also steered Ireland to a first appearance at a World Cup for 28 years but instead of coaching Ireland in India in November, he’ll be in the Belgian dug-out.
Banbridge star Magee said: “The players received an email from Craig telling us of his decision and the first reaction was one of shock and disbelief.
“There had been no indication whatsoever beforehand of what was to come but, while the timing isn’t great, Belgium obviously want him there for the World Cup and we wish him well.
“It’s a big move for him and it won’t be easy for him and his family to relocate but they have always been very supportive of him and I am sure he will do well in his new post.
“Hopefully we will be able to find a new coach although there’s not much time. But even if we don’t, there is enough experience in the squad and enough leaders on the pitch to get by, along with a good team of assistant coaches.”
Lisnagarvey’s Johnny Bell, who has also captained Ireland when Davey Harte has been unavailable, says that while the timing of Fulton’s impending departure was unfortunate and unexpected, it’s a compliment to his coaching ability.
Bell added: “Ned’s departure came out of the blue and was a big surprise to us all.”
“But on reflection, it maybe isn’t that surprising given the successes of the Irish men’s team over the last number of years and it was only a matter of time before a top-five nation would come calling.
“We have to thank him for the considerable sacrifice he made to come to Ireland in 2014.
“The men’s team wasn’t in a great place back then and under his leadership we have risen to the top 10 in the world.
“It’s definitely been a very special and the most successful chapter in the history of Irish hockey.
“The timing of his departure isn’t ideal with our world cup preparations well underway.
“However, the support staff and structures are still there for the summer programme to continue while a successor is found.
“This team has overcome plenty of obstacles in the past to defy the odds and achieve success.
“This is another bump along the road that won’t distract us from our mission. The new coach will inherit a very talented squad that is more determined than ever.
“This opportunity for fresh coaching impetus could be the catalyst to get us to the next level. I have no doubt we will continue on the path of continual improvement and achieve plenty more success.”