Dave Passmore has described Ronan Gormley as one of the “cultural architects” of the Irish men’s rise to the top table in world hockey.
His incredible career is set to be celebrated on Saturday with a special challenge match at Serpentine Avenue (3pm) between a Pembroke selection and an Irish selection.It follows his retirement last year after 13 years in the Irish setup having played 256 times for Ireland, captaining the side 121 times.
Gormley was part of the first Irish team to medal at the European Championships in 2015 as well as playing at the Rio Olympics in 2016 among many highlights.
During that time, he was widely credited as the driving force in changing the way the Irish team approached the international game with former coach Passmore saying he was a key driver of change from the outset.
“When I took over Ronan was captain of the U21s and playing left midfield,” he told The Hook. “Believe it or not, physically he was quite a slight character but that changed quickly once we got a formal gym program going at UCD in 2005.
“It was clear when he trained that Ronan was an all-out competitor but went about things quietly and seemed to be taking it all in from all around him.
“We lacked depth in our back line at that time so, along with Iain Lewers, I felt we needed to develop both as defenders and even from that early age you could see Ronan was going to be uncompromising in his man-to-man defending which quickly became his trademark.”
He missed the 2005 Euros to an ankle injury but Passmore said he used that disappointment to spur his development, improving his hands and elimination skills to make him an ideal wide defender.
“Ronan was never a player who used to shout at training or in the dressing rooms but quickly became a ‘cultural architect’ within the team as to the quality and intensity that we would aim for at training.
“That reflected his determination to make the team at the start and the determination to be successful thereafter. When he did speak, it was always in a calculated and controlled manner and he had the respect off the dressing room from an early age.
The 2007 Euros in Manchester was a formative one. He took on a key role at the back when Jason Black and Tim Lewis were both unavailable with Passmore describing his performance against the Dutch and Spanish side at their peak as “phenomenal”.
“He was uncompromising in the way he marked, playing on the edge of legal and numerous forwards left the pitch frustrated by this unknown young fella!
“He was good in attack too, always keen to join the attack from deep positions. From there he just kept on developing, adding an aerial and long pass to his game so he could start to play in the centre field also.”
More than his playing ability, though, the coach points to Gormley’s influence in changing the approach of Irish hockey teams to embrace elite sport and breakdown self-imposed boundaries.
“When I arrived in Ireland in 2004 we felt a bit like a pub team and one lacking direction and belief,” Passmore continued. “We needed good young role models who would push the existing group of players (and eventually push them out), drive the standards required to progress on the international stage.“At that time it would have appeared as though it was a pointless task being in the gym two mornings a week before 7am and training regionally twice a week as there wasn’t the opportunity of world competition that there is now.
“I remember people laughing at me when I said we had the potential to be a top 12 team and I am sure many of the older players still felt that so it was the younger guys like Ronan, David Harte and co that we needed to take on board the standards, attention to detail and through hard work, build the confidence that we could break the mould.
“We lost some very good players on the way who found the change hard but the younger generation had a tremendous amount of self belief, character and energy.
“Ronan has been integral in the development and progress of the Irish team from the 25th ranking when he was first brought into the squad, to then winning the bronze and qualifying for Rio.
“Similarly the success at Pembroke during those years was in no small part to the standards he brought and expected at training. When Ronan spoke people listened and in the player centred environment we tried to create at that time his voice started to come to the fore.
“But for me it was always his actions that stood out most and that was critical that we had those types of leaders if we were going to break the mould. He was the type of character that was always looking for an edge over his competitors and looking outside to see what else he could do to improve.”
** The celebration game will be played at 3pm on Saturday, January 5 at Pembroke Wanderers, Serpentine Avenue and all are welcome.
The organisers are encouraging kids to bring sticks as they will be welcome on the pitch at half-time and face painting and a bouncy castle will make this a great family occasion.